EAST HARLEM — Uptown residents say they are frustrated by the city's sudden crackdown on painted women in Times Square — while they're still begging for City Hall help to clean up chronic homelessness, drug use and crime in their neighborhood.
“A couple of people see boobs in their face and they lose their mind,” said Tracey Greene, a member of the Harlem Neighborhood Block Association.
“There’s always going to be more priority for people with better means, but one of the things I find troubling is that one of the things the mayor keeps addressing is how homelessness is an issue.”
Advocates say the city created a task force to deal with women who parade around Midtown with bare painted breasts — while City Hall has yet to devote its attention to ongoing violence in the area, including a recent fatal stabbing on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
The Harlem Neighborhood Block Association has long been criticizing the oversaturation of homeless shelters and drug treatment facilities in East Harlem, specifically near 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.
The group has spoken with several elected officials but no one is treating it as a priority, Greene said.
“What our feedback has been is: ’We’ll look into that,’” he said. "None of the representatives have said they want to move forward in doing something about this."
The NYPD has also raided multiple businesses for selling synthetic marijuana in the area — which City Council speaker and East Harlem representative Melissa Mark-Viverito called the "epicenter" of the drug problem.
"It really feels like the epicenter of this is in East Harlem on Lexington Avenue at 125th Street," Mark-Viverito said in a statement on Tuesday, when she proposed a bill toughening restrictions on selling the synthetic drug.
A spokeswoman for the mayor's office issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in which they touted their response to the crime uptown.
"Mayor de Blasio increased the number of police officers by 1,300 in order to put more officers on the street to address concerns about violence and drug use in communities like 125th Street and Lexington. He also has increased the homeless budget by $250 million a year to help the homeless find supportive housing and services, and another $22 million will be used to help the mentally ill homeless with violent tendencies obtain the health care they need."
Problems in the intersection span beyond synthetic marijuana to violence and chronic homelessness, said Renee Bullock, a recovering drug addict.
“It’s really getting dangerous out here,” she said. “We’re dealing with drug addicts and people going through withdrawals.”
A block west under the elevated Metro North tracks, the New East Harlem Merchants Association (NEHMA) transformed a space that was formerly a homeless camp into the “Uptown Grand Central.”
The merchants association worked with the Department of Transportation and Department of Sanitation to clean up the space, set up chairs, music and paint a mural. Additionally, officers from the 25th Precinct have helped patrol the area, said Dionne Layne Morales, the marketing director of the plaza.
Although the situation has improved, there are still safety concerns in the block. Morales said a man tried to attack her a few weeks ago at 11 a.m.
“It was one of the homeless guys, you could smell the liquor,” she said. “He grabbed me … then he threw up.”
Morales does not think it is right for the city to go after the women who paint themselves for tips because the Naked Cowboy has been doing the same thing for years, she said.
The city’s response to that situation and their lack of response uptown sends the wrong message, she said. “They don’t care about us up here like they do downtown because if they did, they would have a task force up here,” she said.