Homeless Camp Grows In Washington Heights Community Park

September 30, 2014 | Rhett Jones

A park in Washington Heights has become a source of stress for the community as it has been slowly taken over by a group of homeless people.

In 2001, Juan Pablo Duarte Square at the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 170th Street has been turned into community project by the Greenstreet program and the Washington Heights Gardening Crew. The former all-granite gathering spot for local skateboarders is now a lush plant-filled park, but locals say it’s becoming impossible to maintain because of stray needles left over by a group of intravenous drug users.

Gardening crew founder Dana Hockenbury says she that she’s stopped bringing student groups to do volunteer maintenance because of the syringes. “It’s not fair to ask them to risk their health for the health of the park,” she says.

Parks Department officials say they “actively coordinate with the 33rd Precinct and the Department of Homeless Services and we have installed signage noting that the park closes at 1 a.m” but the police see little reason to do daily sweeps.

“The problem is really the social-services aspect,” a police source tells DNAinfo. “If you can tell me to take people, I’ll guide them there, but otherwise, I can’t take them out everyday. They’ll just come back, and we end up running in circles.”

According to an in-depth 2013 report by the New Yorker, the number of homeless families increased under the Bloomberg administration by 73 percent. There are so many homeless families that you could fill 4/5ths of Yankee Stadium. That increase has squeezed NYC’s 236 homeless shelters to full capacity, so it’s not surprising that the police would be exasperated.

For now, the community has secured almost $40,000 in city funds so they can begin installing fencing around the planting beds and trees. They would like to install handrails on the benches to discourage sleeping.

The community organizers are sympathetic to the homeless, but say they can’t abide the drinking and drug use. Unfortunately, the systemic problems at the Department of Homeless Services will probably have to be addressed before any meaningful change can occur. (Photo: Google Maps)