The streets around a new homeless shelter at Clay Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint have become so riddled with drugs and violence since the refuge opened, even war vets say they are terrified to step foot there.
“I was in Vietnam, and I’m afraid to go on Clay and Manhattan,” said longtime resident Michael Hoffman, one of many neighbors who lined up at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night to share their horror stories and demand city officials, police, and shelter operators crack down on the problem.
Residents claim they have seen a disturbing surge in criminal activity since operator Home–Life Services opened the residence at 58–66 Clay St. in November last year — some say they have witnessed drug deals and others have been harassed by aggressive riff-raff in their own backyard.
“I noticed a difference in the neighborhood,” said Stephanie Hinson, who lives a few blocks away from the site. “Something happened.”
Two brutal attacks have blighted the nearby blocks since the new shelter arrived — someone fatally stabbed a man on Dupont Street near Manhattan Avenue in December, and another brute beat a local artist in front of the Clay facility in July.
Locals say the city and the site’s operators have made no attempts to curb bad behavior, allowing tenants go out for long smoke breaks after their 10 pm curfew without accountability.
But facility director Riquelma Moreno said she can’t lock up her tenants like prisoners, and claimed she can’t gauge how long a smoke break should be because she has never smoked.
The Clay Street shelter is just a block away from another refuge at 400 McGuiness Blvd. and neighbors claim the space between the two facilities has become a seedy hangout for unsavory characters — particularly 96 Clay St., where neighbors said they saw people smoking crack, and the deli next door.
Police have been just as unhelpful, locals said. Hinson said that when one man who loiters around the deli threw cookies at her and yelled, “Die, b----, die!” the local precinct acted like she was the wacko.
“I called the 94 Precinct and they treated me like I was a nutcase,” said Hinson, adding that the ruffians had also yelled violent sexual threats at her. “I am not a nutcase.”
The Department of Homeless Services has already stationed peace officers — law enforcement officials who are able to make arrests and use force — outside the McGuinness shelter, which neighbors say has helped clean up that area. And a department rep said the city would place officers at the Clay Street facility starting Thursday.
But police and the shelter owner and manager must do their part, too, said one local pol.
“Everybody that was on that dais bears some responsibility to fix the issue,” said Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Greenpoint).
The director of Home Life Services claimed she had only just learned that the conditions around her shelter had spun out of control, and promised to restore safety and goodwill with neighbors — though now how she would do that.
“I will do everything I can,” she said. “I want you to stand up and clap for me when I’ve done what I needed to have done.”