By Carol Tannenhauser
Homelessness and youth crimes dominated the discussion Monday night at an intense 20th Precinct community council meeting, held at the precinct house on 82nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Emotions ran so high that Captain Neil Zuber, the precinct’s new commander, jumped into the discussion before he had been formally introduced.
Keri Goldwyn, the director of homeless outreach at Goddard Riverside, was the guest speaker, and she was, to put it plainly, taking a lot of flak from community members — who packed the room — about the problem of homeless people living on the streets, including whether or not outreach efforts work.
“I’m fearful and I have to zigzag my way home,” said a woman who lives on 72nd near Broadway, sounding distraught. “We all know the problems at McDonald’s and the Ansonia, well, they have now spread out, and it’s really affecting my quality of life. I’m a native New Yorker. I’m not afraid of homeless people, but it’s not a good situation, and it hasn’t gone away!”
“If I could answer that,” Captain Zuber interjected. “I see that this is one of the vital issues in this community, and I want you to know that we take it very seriously, and as it evolves we’re going to do our best to evolve with it and stay a step ahead of it. We’re not just trying to kick it down the street, literally. We’re trying to find solutions. I think everybody here realizes how difficult that is, because not everybody wants the help that we have to offer.”
Goldwyn added that there “might be” plans for weekly “clean ups” of known places where homeless people congregate. She said if you want to report a situation involving a homeless person, call 311. Several people said they have done so to no avail. Goldwyn also offered an interesting observation, based on her three years on the job: “A lot of homeless folks on the Upper West Side are very tied to this community — just like all of you are. They feel safe here. They feel a part of it. A lot of folks who have been around for a long time and seem like fixtures would be far more inclined to accept housing if it were on the Upper West Side.”
The crowd murmured.
The second half of the meeting was devoted to youth crimes.
The good news is that the NYPD is launching an initiative on April 1 to tackle youth crimes in a proactive way. An NYPD spokesperson at the meeting said, “Commissioner (Dermot) Shea is always talking about youth. He thinks youth are the key to reducing crime in the city and that all youth are important.” The new program “entails the introduction of more than 300 new youth coordination officers in each of the department’s 77 precincts. The new officers will be tasked with following individual cases of juvenile delinquency,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Commissioner Shea said, “What we have to do is organize and focus all of these resources so that a troubled kid doesn’t go from 12 years old to 18 years old without us ever intervening in a life going wrong.”
Meanwhile, reports of youth crimes in the neighborhood were alarming. A woman from 76th and West End Avenue said, “Just in the past few months, I’ve heard of several kids getting mugged, including my own son, who was mugged at noon, on a Saturday, right around the corner from our apartment. He was ambushed by a bunch of kids, and he handed over his property. A lot of kids are afraid. They don’t know what to do.”
“The reason why I’m here,” another woman interrupted, “is because my son, who’s 13, was mugged by a group of 10 to 12 kids on bicycles. They tried to steal his shoes. Kids have to know how not to be targets. They’re picking off our 13-year-old kids around the city. My son, every time he see a group of teenagers, he tries to be a cool city kid, but he’s afraid.”
“The new youth coordination officers are going to be the ones directly dealing with this,” the police spokesperson said. “I will tell you, if it’s a choice between your money and your safety, your phone and your safety, any property or your safety, you give up the property.”
“We have to teach kids how not to be victims,” the woman protested. “Muggers go shopping on 72nd Street! They see my kid, and they know they’re going to take his new sneakers.”
Time ran out on the questions. It was suggested that there be a follow-up meeting to further address the issue.
The night had a lighter moment. “Who would like more police in the neighborhood?” Captain Zuber asked the crowd, which applauded. “That’s great, because I would like to introduce the nine newest members of the 20th Precinct,” he said. “They’re still wearing their gray shirts from the police academy. When they graduate on April 1st, the next day they will be assigned here.”