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Turn Homeless Encampment Into PokéStop to Draw Attention to Problem: Locals

By Katie Honan | July 26, 2016 2:02pm
 Despite outreach from the city, neighbors say there's still a homeless site under a BQE overpass.
Despite outreach from the city, neighbors say there's still a homeless site under a BQE overpass.
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Rodrigo Salazar

JACKSON HEIGHTS — A Jackson Heights resident frustrated with the city over a lingering homeless encampment under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway said he wants the site to become a PokéStop to get some attention — and some homeless advocates think it's a good idea.

Rodrigo Salazar, who lives near an encampment underneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway at 35th Avenue between 65th and 69th streets, said he's made dozens of 311 complaints to the city, but the group of homeless men still sleep under the overpass each night.

He said he's at his wit's end trying to get the city — which has visited the site 10 times in the past four months — to take action. So he's mulling a new way to address the problem.

"I'm trying to make it a PokéStop so people go over there and people will notice it's a problem," said Salazar, adding that if more people paid attention to the issue, changes might be made. 

He said he wasn't able to add the site as a stop after developers of the wildly popular game recently announced they were no longer accepting new locations.

But at least one local homeless advocate thinks they should.

Charmel Lucas, who works with advocacy group Picture the Homeless and has been living in a shelter for two years, said Salazar's idea doesn't sound like a bad one.

"I think the more people that know about it, the better," Lucas said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services said that the city is aware of the site, and has  sent outreach teams to the area 10 times since March. 

"This location has received consistent, dedicated attention from our outreach teams, including in March 2016 when we engaged clients, addressed their needs and removed garbage from the area," DHS spokeswoman Lauren Gray said.

"Subsequently, there have been nine separate outreach team visits since that time. Our outreach includes sustained efforts to build trust with New Yorkers living on the streets, help them understand the resources available and connect them to shelter and services.”

Meanwhile, not everyone is supportive of the PokéStop plan.

Shelly Nortz, the deputy executive director for policy at Coalition for the Homeless,said the idea "may be well intentioned, but it is ill-advised."

“Digitally tracking and publicly listing the locations of homeless people has proven too often to endanger them.  If you see a homeless person and want to help, call 311,” she added. 

But Lucas said 311 can only do so much, since the city's outreach teams aren't always successful in helping street homeless. 

"By [officials] coming to do outreach, unless they're really going to help people get some type of housing, they're not going to go into the shelters," she said, adding that Picture the Homeless has been calling on the city to take money from homeless shelters into developing more affordable housing on vacant land and redeveloping abandoned buildings.

Salazar thinks the city needs to do more to improve the area — which has also become a dumping ground for garbage.

"Underneath the overpass there would be a lot of garbage because people want to get rid of their garbage and there aren't any receptacles," he said.

"They have to do something, because whatever they're doing isn't working."