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Homeless Crackdown on 125th Street Only Relocated the Problem, Critics Say

By Gustavo Solis | December 15, 2015 9:21am
 Since the NYPD increased their presence on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, the area has cleaned up. Fewer people are sleeping on subway grates, there is less trash on the ground, and many of the quality-of-life issues seem to have been resolved.
Since the NYPD increased their presence on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, the area has cleaned up. Fewer people are sleeping on subway grates, there is less trash on the ground, and many of the quality-of-life issues seem to have been resolved.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

EAST HARLEM — After almost daily headlines of homelessness at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue leading to K2 hospitalizations and rising crime, the NYPD cleaned up the area.

The 25th Precinct set up a Mobile Command Center, assigned officers to the area 24/7 and cracked down on bodegas selling synthetic drugs. In a matter of months, they cleared the homeless population from the troubled corridor.

While the police did their job, residents and advocates say, the issue persists as the area’s homeless population simply moved to other parts of the district, or in some cases, just down the block.

“The police did a great job,” said East Harlem resident and community organizer Clark Pena. “They locked up people for loitering, they gave them summonses. What was being pushed from up top happened," he said.

But he added that because nobody else stepped in to address the root causes of the situation, the homelessness issue is far from resolved.

"Where’s the follow up?” Pena added, saying that while homelessness is not as visible on 125th and Lexington, it's moved to areas like Harlem River Park, Marcus Garvey Park, and 116th Street and Lexington.

In fact, residents near 116th and Lex recently posted a “Please do not piss” sign to prevent people from peeing in public, he said.

Without offering other services, the city is just relocating the problem from one place to another, Pena added.

Homeless people who used to live in the area and a block west under the Metro North tracks underneath Park Avenue say they were simply asked to leave but not given any information about how to get social services like job placement programs or affordable housing.

“They came out like somebody siccing the hounds on us,” said Floyd Parks, 61. “Give us housing, give us help, give us a way to help ourselves instead of pushing us around. Otherwise we’ll just go from one place to another.”

While he saw a lot of police, Parks said he did not see any other city agency offering services to help the homeless. Since the NYPD’s crackdown, Parks has been protesting the city’s homeless policies with the Picture the Homeless project.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was asked about the follow-up during a public meeting after the sale of the Pathmark.

A constituent noted that this was a health issue not just a criminal issue and suggested parking some sort of mobile health center next to the NYPD’s van on Lexington Avenue.

“That is a good recommendation," Mark-Viverito said at the Nov. 18 meeting. "We will look into it and see if we can follow up.”

A City Council spokeswoman did not respond to a question from DNAinfo this week asking for an update on the issue.

Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has come under scrutiny for his handling of the homeless crisis — increased the homeless budget by $250 million a year to help people find supportive housing and services, according to the Mayor’s Office.

“The de Blasio administration has been working closely with Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office on a multiagency effort to address issues in the 125th St and Lexington area, including increased NYPD presence and sanitation services, K2 inspections and awareness campaigns, and enhanced outreach to unsheltered homeless individuals," said a spokeswoman for the mayor. 

They've also increased services by assigning outreach staff to the area and surveyed 200 homeless people to help come up with more services in East Harlem. 

Despite the significant investment, people say they are not seeing a change in the street. 

“The numbers are high,” said the Rev. Vernon Williams, an anti-violence advocate in Harlem. “I point to finger at Mayor de Blasio. As far as gun violence and homelessness, he’s done a piss poor job.”

Vernon criticized the mayor for funding anti-violence organizations with a poor track record. Earlier this year the District Attorney investigated one organization that staffs ex-gang members after a former employee was shot.

If the city does not address the root causes of homelessness, people will go back to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue as soon as the NYPD leaves, said Juan Ramos, a homeless man who used to live in the area.

“Everyone just moved a few blocks south,” he said. “Eventually they [the police] are going to leave, they are not going to be here a couple of years. I think that when they leave the people are going to come right back here.”