QUEENS — A Jamaica park that recently underwent a $2.2 million makeover is a "disaster" plagued by litter and filled with homeless people, locals say, but the Parks Department thinks the green space is clean enough.
The 11-acre Rufus King Park in downtown Jamaica, which is home to Rufus King Manor, is one of the most heavily used in the neighborhood that hosts numerous community events.
Last year, as part of the city's Jamaica Now Action Plan seeking to revitalize the once-overlooked area, a new lawn, trees and shrubs were planted, the park's pathways were repaved, a new spray shower was installed, and its gazebo was restored.
Locals said that while they hoped the overhaul would the improve park's conditions, trash continues to cover its lawns.
“It’s such a beautiful park, it has so much potential, but when you come there you see trash everywhere,” said Phil Lobato, 42, a registered nurse who works in downtown Jamaica and passes by the park every day.
“I’m absolutely appalled by what I see,” he said, adding that the park stays cleaner in the winter, "but when spring hits, it’s a disaster there."
The Parks Department said it has assigned two employees to the park who "maintain the grounds and pick up litter every day," according to agency spokeswoman Meghan Lalor. "Parks Enforcement routinely patrols the park to enforce Parks rules."
She also noted that when the green space was inspected through the Parks Inspection Program on March 7, it “was given an acceptable rating for cleanliness.”
But during a visit to the park on Thursday, about a dozen apparently homeless men could be seen in the park, with several of them sitting on benches while others slept on the grass and in the park’s pavilion. Litter could also be seen strewn about the green space.
Local Councilman Rory Lancman admitted that despite numerous improvements, "it is an ongoing challenge to get basic sanitation and rule enforcement services in and around the park."
Some locals also complained that teens openly smoke marijuana and drink alcohol in the park, with the homeless issue at its worst during the summer months.
Inspector John Cappelmann, commanding officer of the 103rd Precinct, which covers the green space, said police continue "to monitor conditions in the park and conduct patrol operations there on a daily basis.“
He noted that the precinct has "not experienced an increase in crime in the park, nor have we received complaints about narcotics activity."
Photo: DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska
Local blog Clean Up Jamaica Queens Now routinely posts photos documenting conditions in the park, including garbage cans spilling over and homeless people sleeping there.
The Department of Homeless Services said that it is aware of the issue and works to address it with Breaking Ground, a nonprofit coordinating street homeless outreach in the area.
"Our outreach teams canvass this area every day, engaging individuals who may be homeless and encouraging them to accept services,” said department spokesman Isaac McGinn, adding that accepting services and moving indoors is voluntary for the individuals they assist.
Of the several dozens of people in the area that the teams have approached, 16 were determined to be homeless and are known to outreach workers by their names, the agency said.
“Through compassionate persistence, those teams have made six recent placements from this area to transitional or permanent housing opportunities,” McGinn explained.
As new hotels and apartment buildings are being constructed in the area, including plans to transform the derelict site of the Mary Immaculate Hospital across the street from the park into luxury apartment buildings, locals hope the green space will get more resources to stay clean, they said.
“It can get really dirty here,” said Adriana Perez, 35, who comes to the park regularly with her 4-year-old daughter. “That’s not what you want to see near your playground. They have to clean it more often.”