Homeless count finds few at b’walk – But transportation and aid are hard to come by

By Stephen Witt

A posse of community board, city and police officials along with a few residents walked the Coney Island Boardwalk in the wee morning hours recently searching for the homeless. And when the search was over, the group found two homeless in the city’s sixth annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) 2008. “The people I walked with did the Boardwalk from West 21st Street to West 8th Street from about 1 to 1:30 a.m.,” said Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal. “We found one man against the wall of the Education Hall of the Aquarium. His first name was Derrick and we asked him if he wanted to find a place to sleep that night as he was bundled up even though it was not a very cold night,” Reichenthal added. After the group called for somebody to pick Derrick up and bring him to a shelter, one of the census takers gave him a few dollars to get something to eat, recalled Reichenthal. Then Derrick packed his supermarket cart up, thanked everybody and left to get something to eat, Reichenthal said. The group waited around about 40 minutes and the van never came, he added. Reichenthal said he believes the non-profit Common Ground, which is under contract with the city to work with homeless in Brooklyn and Queens, was responsible for providing the van. “Common Ground didn’t even come down that night. Maybe they were stretched out themselves,” he said. Calls to Common Ground were referred to the City Department of Homeless Services (DOH). DHS spokesperson Linda Bazerjian said Common Ground is contracted out as the outreach provider for DHS including providing housing placement, Code Blue emergencies when it is very cold outside and placement of the chronically homeless. In regard to the van not showing up, Bazerjian said, “Unfortunately, every so often glitches with transportation occur. It is unfortunate but not the norm.” Bazerjian said it may have either been a Common Ground or a DHS van that was supposed to show up. However, during the HOPE 2008 census, which is citywide, it is logistically harder to get all the vans out in a timely fashion, she said. Bazerjian said the HOPE 2008 census figures concerning the numbers of homeless people found citywide will not come out until the spring. Common Ground has a three-year, $3.2 million annual performance-based contract and they are responsible for meeting specific placement targets for chronically homeless clients, she said. Community Affairs police officer John Nevandro from the 60th Precinct found the other homeless person wandering around near the bumper car ride near Surf Avenue and Henderson Walk. Nevandro said the census is not necessarily indicative of how many homeless people are in the area. The best time to do the homeless count is right after the summer season, when the beachgoers go home leaving many homeless standing out, he said. Reichenthal said he went with his flashlight and checked other known and popular homeless spots and found homeless trappings such as blankets, pots and rags, but no people. These spots include around and under the beach pavilion, under the boardwalk, and around the Stillwell Avenue and KeySpan Park areas where it’s easy to squirrel in or break through the fenced-in area, he said. In the meantime, Our Most Precious Blood parish at 70 Bay 47th Street in Bath Beach is embarking on a food pantry to help local residents that are struggling to pay their bills. Our Most Precious Blood Msgr. Joseph Rosa said the food pantry is just in the process of being formed, but plans to start serving the community in the near future. — Additional reporting by Michèle De Meglio