People Living on the Streets

Man sleeping under Black History mural Herkimer Street

Man sleeping under Black History mural Herkimer Street

Regular beggar asking for food on Nostrand Avenue

Regular beggar asking for food on Nostrand Avenue

Outside Brooklyn Avenue

Outside Brooklyn Avenue

Man asleep on the platform of the Kingston Avenue subway stop. Didn't stir as the train came in the station maybe two feet away.

Man asleep on the platform of the Kingston Avenue subway stop. Didn't stir as the train came in the station maybe two feet away.

Man on the train trying to sleep.

Man on the train trying to sleep.

Homelessness in New York and Crown Heights

Everyone sees people on the street who would appear to be homeless. They are begging for money or food, sleeping on benches or in doorways or in subway cars or on the platforms. They are often huddled under blankets or with multiple layers of clothing on, perhaps with their belongings in tow in shopping carts or re-purposed baby strollers. To the ordinary passerby they are a puzzle. Some turn away in disgust; others wonder what they can do to help. Giving money is not considered a good idea. Who knows how it will be spent?

Currently there are about 60,000 people living in shelters, 20,000 of whom are children. It is hard to know how many people live outside the shelters. There is something called the Hope Count every February that is designed to get a rough idea. Once can volunteer to help with the count.

If you feel someones needs help, you can call 311 and tell where the person is. A Street Outreach Team should go to the location the same day. In Crown Heights it is a non-profit called Breaking Ground that does this. If they find the person, they will try to get that person to accept help. The first step would be to get the person to go to an Assessment Shelter. The person should stay there no longer than two weeks, but it may take longer if the person has no ID or is having trouble coming up with information. At the Assessment Shelter an attempt is made to finf out what would be best for the individual. There are good reasons a person might not want to go to a shelter. Bellevue, which is where single men are sent, is notorious for uncertain security and violent incidents.

After an assessment the person might be sent to a wide variety of different places – simple shelters, though some are very bad such as the one at Bedford and Atlantic Avenues in the armory, mental health facilities, rehabilitation centers to get off drugs or alcohol, places to arrange subsidized housing or help with getting a job. For undocumented immigrants there is no service for housing.

If the person refuses the assessment center there are other possibilities. In Brooklyn there is the drop in center at 2402 Atlantic Avenue where one can spend the night. Also one might call the Neighborhood Coordination Office at the 77th Precinct. There are Michelle Giglio and Alicia Frisch. They can be reached at 718-735-6070. They would no doubt have good advice and might talk to the person.

In addition there are many services that can be helpful to the homeless. Churches often serve meals and distribute coats. For example, one can get a meal at Bethany Methodist Church at 1208 St. Johns Place on Tuesdays at 12:30 and the church distributes coats at the same time. Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist at 449 Eastern Parkway serves lunch on Saturdays and has a food pantry on Thursdays.

Homelessness is a big complicated problem and the system that deals with it has a host of problems, but in the right circumstances it can help.

UpdatesJonathan Judge