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Homelessness and Panhandling Complaints Up 78 Percent in Neighborhood: Data

By Lisha Arino | November 9, 2015 6:12pm | Updated on November 10, 2015 7:06pm

LOWER EAST SIDE — Calls about the presence of homeless people, homeless encampments and panhandling have spiked in the past year, continuing an upward trend of increasing 311 complaints over the past few years, data shows.

More than 300 complaints relating to homeless people were recorded this year through October in the 10009 and 10002 zip codes — which covers the bulk of the East Village and Lower East Side — a jump from the 171 calls recorded last year overall, according to public records.

Except for a slight dip between 2011 and 2012, the number of complaints regarding homeless individuals and panhandlers has grown each year since 2010, when only 83 calls were recorded, records show.

Between 2012 and 2013, the calls increased about 95 percent to 160 from 82, according to 311 data. Complaints then went up nearly 7 percent between 2013 and 2014. The number of calls between last year, when 171 complaints were logged, and this year so far has jumped by roughly 78 percent, data shows.

But the numbers don’t necessarily mean the neighborhoods’ street homeless population has increased, according to the city and the Manhattan Outreach Consortium, which has partnered with the city to conduct homeless outreach and housing placement services in Manhattan.

Citywide data collected in the annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) done each year in January, shows the number of unsheltered individuals has remained relatively steady in the past five years, with the numbers increasing and decreasing slightly every other year.

The Department of Homeless Services referred inquiries to the mayor’s office, which said the number of complaints was proportional to the increase of citizens using the 311 app. Usage has more than doubled in the past year, they said.

“The increase in 311 app usage for homeless assistance in this area is equal to the overall increase in application usage, and we’re glad to see more New Yorkers using the 311 app and helping get services to those in need,” said spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh.

Despite reports of increased homeless in the area, particularly in places like Tompkins Square Park, the Manhattan Outreach Consortium has not seen a significant increase in street homelessness recently, said director Cesar Vanegas.

Complaints typically increase during the warmer months, when homeless people — and those who may appear to be homeless — spend more time outdoors, Vanegas said.

“When we look at the data we can’t say that street homelessness is on the rise,” he said.

This year however, the group has fielded more complaints than usual, with a record-breaking 900 calls in Manhattan last August, he said.

“This spike is just completely different for us,” Vanegas said, adding that 60 percent of the complaints the consortium has responded to have come from the app. “I think it was in testing mode last year, but everyone is using it now.”

Locals are also filing complaints for the same location multiple times a day, he said, which is partly why the 311 numbers have gone up. Sometimes, different individuals report the same issue, Vanegas said, while others report the same incident repeatedly in hopes of resolving the situation as quickly as possible.

“Some individuals don’t want to see it, not in my backyard,” Vanegas explained, but “a lot people, from the goodness of their hearts, want to see a good outcome,” not realizing it isn’t always easy to convince homeless individuals to accept services.

Residents who see individuals posing a danger to themselves or others should call 911, said Vanegas and Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, who called the area’s homeless situation a “crisis” during the last full board meeting on Oct. 25.

The issue was one of residents’ top complaints to the board, Stetzer told DNAinfo New York.

“The complaints that I get are people who are concerned about the number of homeless on the street,” said Stetzer, who has encouraged residents to mention “homeless outreach” when calling 311 so that individuals could be offered services as soon as possible.

“This is a community where our concern about the homeless is for services so they are not homeless," she said. "It’s not about moving them away from this corner where people don’t want to see them.”