By Jacob Rose
Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the vigilante crime prevention group Guardian Angels, harshly criticized the recent relocation of hundreds of homeless men into Upper West Side hotels and announced new neighborhood patrols at open meetings in Central Park on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Sliwa, an Upper West Side resident who is running for mayor in 2021, spoke before an upset crowd on Sunday at the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, expressing dismay at what he perceives to be the city’s mishandling of the situation.
Sliwa promised to “put a lid on” any criminal activity or public disturbances with neighborhood patrols. The New York Post reported after Saturday’s meeting that Sliwa had called for “assigning 60 people to the Upper West Side in different shifts.” Guardian Angels members are unarmed volunteers and wear distinctive red berets and Guardian Angels shirts. The organization has been around since the late seventies, when members patrolled city streets and subways. Many New Yorkers welcomed the organization during the height of the New York crime wave in the 80’s, though the group also ran into controversy; Sliwa acknowledged in 1992 that the group had faked crimes for publicity.
Several Guardian Angels stood behind Sliwa as he spoke on Sunday, and the rest of the crowd cheered on Sliwa as he tore into Mayor de Blasio, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea, and other city officials.
John Mindell, a local who attended the meeting, supports the group. “They’re a presence. I remember them from the seventies, and I believe they can accomplish an inhibition in potential wrongdoings,” he said.
Sliwa faulted Mayor de Blasio for shifting over $1 billion from the police budget to social service programs, and NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea—another Upper West Sider—for not employing specialized police units which he claims used to be more present in and around homeless shelters.
“You get limited, if almost no, response,” he said. “And if in fact the police in the 20th or the 24th precinct respond, they really don’t seem to do what it is they’re supposed to do.”
In the 20th precinct, where most of the shelters are located, crime is down 10% this year, the commander there has noted.
Sliwa criticized the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and its commissioner, Steven Banks, for not involving the community in the decision to relocate the homeless men.
“This was imposed upon you with none of the typical standards of the Department of Homeless Services,” he said.He claimed the DHS is providing an inadequate level of treatment for the homeless men. “The Department of Homeless Services only does one thing: warehouse human beings. There’s no therapy, no services, no outreach,” he said.
Sliwa also criticized the DHS for what he believes to be a lack of transparency about how many sex offenders remain in the new shelters.
“[The DHS] acts like, oh we transferred them. But where did you transfer them to?” he said.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.