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West Siders Upset by Increase in Panhandlers on Broadway

By Emily Frost | September 28, 2012 3:17pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Broadway has been populated by "aggressive panhandlers" who have taken up residence along the high-traffic corridor, according to City Councilwoman Gale Brewer.

In a letter addressed to Chief William Morris of the Manhattan North Patrol Borough, Brewer said she hoped for an action plan to stop the "recent phenomenon" of "aggressive panhandling."

"Several young white homeless persons" have "taken up residence along Broadway," Brewer wrote.

"They all have similar signs," she wrote, "some have dogs."

Brewer said that she'd received numerous calls from concerned constituents about the increase.

Morris responded that he'd informed both Deputy Inspector Nancy Barry of the 24th Precinct and Inspector Brian McGinn of the 20th Precinct and that Brewer should expect a response from them.

The "24 Precinct has reached out to let us know they are doing a lot of foot patrols on this," said a spokesman from Brewer's office. 

Scott Gallie, 24, is one of the panhandlers who spends most of his days on Broadway. He sits outside the Lincoln Square AMC Loews at 68th Street, his head bowed in a book.

Gallie said he sometimes reads four to five books a week; he loves classic American fiction, anything from the work of Thomas Pynchon to David Foster Wallace.

Gallie grew up on Staten Island and he returned to New York City two years ago after years away when the "off the books jobs" like running errands at a construction site or painting started to dry up.  

He's friendly with the other panhandlers he encounters, but he wouldn't exactly call it a community. 

"I've had plenty of people accuse us of all knowing each other and pooling our money," he said. 

That kind of accusation doesn't anger him anymore though, in his view, "you're never going to change their mind."

Gallie sits on the sidewalk for six to seven hours a day, he said, with a jar for change in front of him that he hopes will add up to enough money to buy food or a new book. On Wednesday, he was working his way through a bag of shredded wheat and a book about the Civil War. 

Just one corner north sits another man, who did not want to give his name, holding a sign asking for money. He's in school at night to become an electrician and he doesn't want his classmates knowing he's homeless, a fact that deeply embarrasses him. 

Until six months ago, he was a married man who lived on 51st Street and worked as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he said. Then, he entered a downward spiral: getting divorced, losing his apartment, falling into a deep a depression that resulted in the loss of his job and his subsequent hospitalization. 

He stays on the streets only a few hours a day, enough to earn $10 for food, before he leaves for school, to study or just to walk around as another anonymous New Yorker. Sometimes, he gets a $20 bill, which means he can skip the next two days of begging. 

Now a middle-aged man, he sleeps at night in the same abandoned Upper East Side stairwell he used to escape to as a sixteen year-old, he said. He found it unlocked and has been hiding there at night. 

"The shelters are so full of bed bugs," he said, "and they give me a rash." 

He'll have completed his electrician degree by February and he hopes that will lead to a job. He's paying for school with government grants he secured when he still had a job at the Met.

Gallie has less of a plan. He'd like to work as a teacher or a researcher, a job that involves a lot of reading. "I try not to worry about the future," he said. 

Although Gallie said he's been targeted by the police in the past, he said he's been bothered a lot less recently despite seeing more police in the area. 

Gallie sees himself as a "traveler," someone who keeps clean and keeps moving. 

"I don't like to go to soup kitchens — it's depressing," he said, "There are homeless people there who've just given up."

According to the Coalition for the Homelessness, there were 10,149 single homeless adults in New York City in July 2012. 

This isn't the first time the neighborhood has battled an increase in new homeless residents. 

In early September, hundreds of Upper West Side residents spoke out against a pair of new homeless shelters housing up to 400 homeless adults on West 95th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.