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De Blasio Blames 3 Homeless People for Canceled Arthur Ave. Tree Lighting

By  Jeff Mays and Eddie Small | November 30, 2015 3:21pm 

 The Belmont Business Improvement District has come under fire for its decision to cancel its Christmas tree lighting, normally held in Vincent Ciccarone Playground, to pay for a security guard to help deal with homeless people in the neighborhood.
The Belmont Business Improvement District has come under fire for its decision to cancel its Christmas tree lighting, normally held in Vincent Ciccarone Playground, to pay for a security guard to help deal with homeless people in the neighborhood.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

UPPER EAST SIDE — Three homeless people are the reason the Belmont Business Improvement District canceled the Arthur Avenue Christmas tree lighting ceremony, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

When DNAinfo New York broke the story last week that the ceremony was canceled, Frank Franz, treasurer for the Belmont Business Improvement District, said it was because it was too expensive and "we have had so many problems with vagrants that we had to hire security."

Asked about the cancelation, de Blasio said that he had been in touch with officials about the situation and said "there’s more to that story than was originally reported from what we’re hearing."

"I think there are other considerations that went into it. But the bottom line is whenever there is a quality of life problem, we’re going to go at it," said de Blasio, who has come under criticism by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his management of the city's homeless problem.

Cuomo said last week that de Blasio "can't manage the homeless crisis" and that the state planned to "step in."

On Monday, de Blasio called Cuomo's comments "political posturing." He referenced the city's $2.6 billion plan to build 15,000 units of affordable housing over the next 15 years.

"The City of New York is doing the work. It's time for the state to step up," de Blasio said.

The mayor also admitted last week that he agreed with a criticism from his Police Commissioner William Bratton that he was slow to address the homeless issue.

But de Blasio said he was on top of the Arthur Avenue situation.

“I asked some very specific questions about that situation and it comes down to three homeless individuals along the Arthur Avenue strip who’ve been a problem," he said. "They’re known to the police, they’re known to the Department of Homeless Services and they’re being addressed in a very forthright manner."

De Blasio said the 48th Precinct has been “deeply involved” with local merchants and the BID to address the situation.

In the meantime, the BID has come under fire for its decision to cancel the Christmas tree lighting from homeless advocacy groups, who say that BID members are just using the homeless as an excuse not to hold the event.

"Everybody is trying to blame the homeless for everything," said Elizabeth Owens, growth organizer at the social services group Vocal New York. "Oh, you’re going to stop this because of the homeless people."

Although local business owners have maintained that their stores were beset with panhandlers this year, advocates argued that the best way to handle this situation was by helping the homeless, not by using them as scapegoats.

"Shouldn’t we stop blaming them and help them?" Owens asked. "I know I can’t sit down to my dinner table and eat at peace knowing there are people out there that are homeless and need a place to go and eat."

The neighborhood does plan to hold at least two indoor tree lighting ceremonies this year, including one on Dec. 3 at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market and another at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

Marcus Moore, a member of the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, criticized the BID's decision to hire a security guard instead of holding its Christmas tree lighting.

"All security is going to do is put a Band-Aid on things, and that’s what going on right now: people are putting a Band-Aid on the situation," he said.

"You expect him or her to just snap his or her fingers and, poof, everything goes away?" Moore asked. "That’s not going to happen."

If the BID really wants to ensure a successful tree lighting, they should just include the neighborhood's homeless people in the ceremony and make sure they understand how important it is to the neighborhood, according to Moore.

"They will take pride in that and want to probably partner up," he said. "It’s for everybody, not just those with houses."