The Locals Have Spoken: We’re Not out of the Woods yet with the Clay St. Shelter
The swell of crime in North Greenpoint is still not the type of thing we’re discussing in yesterday’s terms, but things, on some level, appear to be happening. The fact that city officials scheduled a followup town hall meeting so soon after the last one is testament to the notion that they’re taking things seriously, even if residents are pretty firm on their stance that they haven’t gotten serious enough.
As many God Bless Deli II loyalists can attest to, the corner of Clay and Manhattan is frequently a hub of aggression, and some residents feel that it has to do with the homeless shelter at 66 Clay Street that moved into the neighborhood about a year ago. The tension that’s erupted in the months since can be traced to anything ranging from “quality of life concerns” to actual assaults on people who live nearby.
It’s unfortunate no matter how you slice it. Though the violence tends to stay between the clients (it’s a couples shelter, so domestic violence disputes come with the territory), there have also been reports of muggings, assaults, and sexual harassment afflicting the neighboring community. Greenpointers are also pretty unhappy about living with the constant shouting, aggression, and drug dealing that goes on, especially insofar as their children are concerned.
“There’s an aggression that comes out of 66 Clay,” said one local man at the meeting, which took place Dec. 7 at the Polish & Slavic Center at 176 Java Street. “We can feel it; we can sense it; it’s a totally different vibe. The BRC guys [at a neighboring shelter on McGuinness] say ‘hello, how are you.’ [The residents at Clay Street] come at you, block the sidewalk. It’s just a constant aggression and different kind of person.”
Another resident got choked up as she told the room about being harassed and followed while she was with her young children.
“It’s like they wanted to provoke me,” she said. “And she was saying lewd, sexual, disgusting things to my children, who are 2 and 3 years old.”
The good news is that a number of steps have been taken since the original meeting in September. The 94th precinct made a wash of drug arrests in the area, and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has been patrolling the vicinity 5 days a week. That’s in addition to the shelter’s own security staff, as well as cameras that have been installed on the corner and additional oversight from the Parks Department. That’s a far cry from when 66 Clay was “entirely unsecured” in 2010, as Council Member Stephen Levin mentioned.
In spite of this, the overwhelming consensus at the meeting was that chaos abides, and many locals don’t feel like there’s a strong police presence, especially when cops on duty seem more interested in their dogs than their complaints (in the crudely paraphrased words of at least two people there).
Additionally, people attested to the sense that the loitering and drug activity has spread well beyond that corner.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done, and I do believe you’ve made those improvements, but we’re kind of sitting on a volcano,” said another woman.
Here are a few other highlights and clarifications from the meeting.
– The spokesperson for Home Life Services, Inc., which operates the shelter at 66 Clay, got a little defensive. “Home Life is not a passive provider,” he said. We are known as a very tough provider in terms of responding to all kinds of drug complaints and all kinds of issues. And I’m surprised when someone says they try to call us and get no response.” He recommended that residents take pictures of offenders instead of assuming they’re all his clients, but several people dismissed this as a dangerous and unrealistic move.
“Then I don’t think we should be accused that there’s a general feeling that we’re at fault here,” he said. “I resent that.”
“Symbolic logic,” retorted a resident. “When BRC was there and you weren’t, we didn’t have this kind of issue. When you guys moved in, suddenly it was different. I think that says it right there.”
– The shelter, which houses 89 couples (or 178 people), is not in the disrepair that it used to be in. It has a new owner, is housed in an upgraded building, and features new amenities. According to Home Life Services, a justice coordinator is being hired to work with people who have been recently released from prison. There’s also a staff of roughly 10 social workers and a security staff of 15.
– Most of the arrests that have been made involved people who had warrants against them.
– Are sexual predators constantly being dumped on Greenpoint? Yes and no. The BRC facility on McGuinness is one of four assessment facilities in NYC for single adult males, so anyone who cycles through there has to report it as his address, even if he’s no longer living there. The average stay is 18 days.
– Clay Street residents feel that they’re in a desirable location compared to other shelters. They are more afraid of the DHS officers than local police, and that’s because DHS officers can identify them and potentially get them kicked out.
– Is homelessness getting worse under de Blasio? Yes, but not because of his policies. Levin pointed out that the Bloomberg administration originally cut the Advantage program, which provided subsidies to families to help them secure permanent housing. The homeless population has surged from roughly 40,000 to nearly 60,000 since. De Blasio has attempted to implement a similar subsidy program, but it’s not having the success they hoped it would, because many landlords don’t want to take in subsidized residents after losing so much money when the government pulled out four years ago.
– Is Greenpoint unique in terms of its issues with homelessness? “Everyone of my colleagues is dealing with the same thing,” said Levin. “Yes, Greenpoint gets more than its fair share, but on the same token, almost every council member [has these problems].”
– The crowd was aghast when someone in the audience suggested tagging the residents with wristbands for a day. “That might be illegal,” said another attendee.