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Co-Op Wants DOT to Remove Bench After Homeless Woman Takes Up Residence

By Mathew Katz | August 20, 2013 6:49am
  The woman's multitude of belongings are blocking a busy sidewalk, local said.
Homeless Woman's Belongings Block Sidewalk, Neighbors Say
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HELL'S KITCHEN — Residents of a 10th Avenue co-op are asking the city to remove a pricey new CityBench from the front of their building just months after its installation — saying it's become a magnet for the homeless.

Tenants and management at a co-op complex at 656 10th Ave. near 46th Street have been pressing the Department of Transportation to remove the metal bench from the front of the building since shortly after it was installed in May.

Neighbors said the problems started soon after the arrival of the CityBench — which is part of the DOT's initiative to provide more public seating around the city — when a local homeless woman took up residence on the sleek seat.

Residents said the woman has covered the bench and the surrounding sidewalk with a pile of clothing, newspapers, boxes, and even a television set, blocking the sidewalk to passersby with wheelchairs or strollers.

"This bench is in front of the entrance to the building and in front of doors on the street that lead to the basement. If the doors are open it leaves very little space to pass by especially for the handicapped," managing agent Robert Kaye, who works for the building's management company R.F. Stuart, wrote in a note to the DOT on Aug. 13.

"Also, with residents entering and exiting the building, regular street traffic and the doors to the basement open it will cause an extreme hazard," Kaye continued in the email, which was shared with DNAinfo New York.

The DOT responded to the email by saying that the bench was expensive to remove, and rejected the co-op's offer to foot the bill, tenants told DNAinfo New York.

"Bench removal is a big drain on our funds, so before we even go that route, I want to make sure we have used all of our resources," wrote Shari Glickman, the DOT's CityBench project manager, wrote the group on Aug. 15, according to an email shared with DNAinfo.

A spokesman for the DOT said that the agency was reviewing the situation, but added that the bench was installed at the request of individuals in the community and with notification to the property owner.

But tenants say the situation has become unbearable.

"It's become a safety issue," said Joanne Diaz, 43, who lives on the corner with her 80-year-old mother and two daughters. "She leaves her stuff and keeps bringing more stuff — she starts screaming at everyone and no one can use the bench."

Diaz and her neighbors have reached out to police and the Department of Homeless Services. The DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A police source confirmed they have been alerted to the issue, but have few options to remove the woman.

Diaz and her neighbors are now pursuing the issue with Community Board 4, in the hopes that the board can convince the DOT to remove the bench.

"I don't want to sound insensitive, but when it starts to affect our quality of life, when my 7-year-old daughter is terrified of walking out of the building, it affects me," said Diaz, who added that she's approached the woman several times, offering her food and hoping to speak to her about her things. 

On Monday afternoon, the woman, who identified herself as Olivia, told a reporter that she enjoyed spending time on the bench on 10th Avenue.

"I keep all my things there, it's good," she said, "They may call the cops on me soon, but I'll just move to the park," she added, gesturing at the nearby Matthews-Palmer Playground.