An encampment of homeless people has taken hold of a Chelsea street corner, making life a drug-infested hell for area business owners and residents — despite Mayor Bill de Blasio learning of it nearly three weeks ago and vowing action “right away.”
About 15 to 20 vagrants have dug in at West 24th Street and Sixth Avenue, with some constructing makeshift shelters out of flower pots, plastic kiddie gates or shopping carts.
The group has grown exponentially since the coronavirus — from just two people pre-pandemic — but only one woman among them was seen wearing a mask by a Post reporter.
As the encampment has expanded, it’s clogged entrances to businesses already scraping to get by during the economic downturn, and deterred would-be customers and neighborhood residents alike from venturing into the intersection, locals said.
“I have a lot of customers that complain. They don’t want to come down this block,” said Richard Charlton, owner of Sixth Avenue’s A+ Access Locksmith.
“They came when we were closed [during the pandemic] and they never left,” Charlton continued. “They just kept on coming.”
Charlton, whose store was shuttered between March and June, said it was disheartening to weather one storm only to return to another.
“I was almost at the brink of shutting down,” he said. “It’s overwhelming to be shut down for so long — business is slow — and to come back to this? It’s discouraging.”
The vagrants come and go throughout the day, but often return to bed down at night.
Early Tuesday, the owner of The Corner Cafe arrived to find a couple conked out once again on his deli’s doorstep.
Fed-up of picking up after the homeless, he simply threw up his hands and went home without opening for the day, despite tanking sales.
“Every morning I come here, I have to fight with these guys to get off my steps,” the owner, who declined to be identified by name, told The Post on Wednesday. “I was angry and frustrated. But now I just give up. I don’t have the energy to fight them anymore.
“These people killed my business,” he said. “The customers don’t want to come.”
The owner said that his daily clean-ups after the group include sweeping aside used syringes, and Charlton said that he has seen them openly “smoking crack and shooting up.”
A Post reporter observed one resident of the encampment smoking what appeared to be crack, and another member of the group acknowledged that some among them use drugs.
“They take drugs and they pass out. They overdose,” said a woman who gave her name as Sharon, and described herself as the “mother” of the group. “I call the ambulance and they go to the hospital, but they come right back.”
The Post on Wednesday witnessed Sharon break up a fight in which a baseball bat-wielding vagrant threatened a female camp member named Poeta, accusing her of stealing his bag.
Poeta — half of the couple that sleeps on the stairs of The Corner Cafe — alleged that residents of apartments overlooking the encampment “throw hot water on us.
“We call the police, but they don’t do nothing,” she said.
A nearly non-existent city response is one thing on which the homeless and business owners can agree.
The encampment was one of three highlighted to Mayor de Blasio in a press briefing nearly three weeks ago.
Hizzoner vowed to do “whatever it takes” to “have it addressed right away,” but the camp remains very much thriving.
“We call 311 so many times and they don’t come,” said Sam Fernando, a worker at 725 Video.
“They block the door. I ask them nicely to move and they want to fight,” he said of the vagrants. “They harass the customers. How can you do business in an environment like this?”
The owner of The Corner Cafe said that he’s called the police “almost 20 to 30 times” over the past two months for various issues with the encampment.
When the police would respond at all, the homeless simply moved away until the cops took off, then circled back, he said.
The NYPD’s Homeless Outreach Unit was disbanded last month — its approximately 85 cops reassigned to combat rising shootings — with the city preferring other departments deal with the indigent.
A Sanitation Department car visited the intersection Thursday, but a worker simply snapped photos of the scene.
“We clean up and they come back every day,” said the worker.
“They just want us to take pictures every day,” he added, in an apparent reference to DSNY higher-ups.
The camp is just the latest in a series of recent failures by the city to address New York’s homeless problem.
An East Village encampment was dismantled by sanitation workers last month only to be rebuilt in less than 24 hours.
And the plan to move residents of packed congregate shelters into hotels amid the coronavirus has brought an influx of drug users and convicted sexual predators to the Upper West Side.
City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what steps are being taken to address the Chelsea encampment, and why it remains three weeks after being presented to the mayor.
Even Sharon, the group’s “mother,” acknowledged that the city needs to take action, for the sake of all involved.
“You have nice people living here, they have children,” she said, referring to Chelsea. “They are scared to walk out here.
“I expect it to get worse unless the city steps in.”
Source: New York Post
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