Midwood Residents Air Quality-of-Life Concerns With City Officials

By Reuvain Borchardt

L-R: Moshe Davis, Jewish Liaison at the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit; Peter Rebenwurzel, FJCC executive board member; NYPD Inspector Bruce Ceparano, commanding officer of the 70th Precinct; Councilman Kalman Yeger; FJCC Chairman Josh Mehlman; Frank DeGaetano, Bureau Chief of the Green Zone at the Brooklyn DA”s Office. (Emes Productions)

BROOKLYN — Midwood residents and activists met Tuesday night with NYPD and other city officials to discuss growing concerns over crime and quality-of-life issues around Ave. M and other commercial areas.

In a neighborhood historically known for its low crime rates, and largely comprised of private homes and expensive real estate, residents say there has been a surge of homeless people living on the streets, unsavory characters hanging out, and drug dealing.

“They’re selling drugs out in the open, out of a backpack, it’s like they own that corner,” said one mother named Shulamis, complaining about a group of youths who hang out on Ave. M at E. 17th Street. “We have kids going to the stores by themselves. Obviously, this can’t go on.”

The meeting, at a Midwood shul, was attended by 50 officials, activists and residents, arranged and chaired by Josh Mehlman, chairman of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition.

Shulamis’s husband, Moshe, who volunteers at Yeshiva Ohr Yitzchak, on E. 15th Street near Ave. L, said a homeless man who “chases kids” has been living near the yeshiva for over a year.

Moshe said the homeless man hangs out by an apartment building window, “and smokes and stands there for hours,” and that some tenants have now blacked out their windows, while others moved out.

“That brings a lot of fear and uncertainty to the neighborhood,” Moshe said.

Outside the Ave. M train station Tuesday night. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

The officials at the meeting said that while residents may complain that “nobody is doing anything,” it is more productive for them to file formal complaints with authorities.

NYPD Inspector Bruce Ceparano, commanding officer of the 70th Precinct, said that of the 311 calls that are rerouted to his precinct, just seven have been placed regarding quality-of-life issues around Avenue M this year.

“If I don’t get a call or an email [about a problem], I don’t know that it’s happening,” said Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who represents the south side of Ave. M. “I can’t possibly know what’s happening every corner. So we just ask that you guys call us. Sometimes it’s appropriate to call 911; sometimes it’s appropriate to call 311.”

Councilman Kalman Yeger, who represents the north side of the avenue, said residents should place the 311 call and then follow up with the councilmember’s office, because the 311 call creates a record that forces the appropriate city agency to take action.

“If the agency ever says, ‘We have no complaints about it,’” Yeger said, “we can find [the record of complaints] and we can go back to the agency … And no agency can actually turn around and say no. Because the frequent [issue] is that you put a complaint into 311 and then you check back later and it says the complaint was closed and no action [was taken]. Give that to us — we’ll get an answer to what happened. But if the complaint isn’t there, you have nothing to start with.”

Flatbush Shomrim executive coordinator Robert Moskovitz (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

However, the officials at the meeting cautioned that residents may not get their desired result because the law doesn’t always allow for the removal of individuals affecting quality of life. For example, Ceparano told Shulamis that the NYPD cannot arrest people for dealing marijuana or for loitering.

Also, officials said that when 311 receives a call about a homeless person living on the street, the city dismantles any structural encampment and sends someone to try to convince the individual to go to a shelter. But the city cannot forcibly remove someone who is not harming or threatening anyone — and it often takes hundreds of encounters to finally convince a homeless person to go to a shelter.

One resident complained that two homeless people have been living on benches on Avenue J — one in the bus shelter at Coney Island Avenue and the other on an open-air bench at East 12th Street. Community Board 14 District Manager Shawn Campbell said of one of them, “The city outreach team thinks she’ll go in as soon as it gets cold. She’s sick … she’s schizophrenic and she’s a foreigner.” Yeger said he has repeatedly asked the city to remove the benches, as well as some in Friends Field that homeless people are living on, but the requests have been denied.

Rabbi Akiva Kelman of Prospect Park Yeshiva High School [center table, left]; and district leader Pinny Ringel [center table, middle]. (Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia)

Similarly, Rabbi Akiva Kelman, administrator at Prospect Park Yeshiva High School on Avenue R, said many students had stopped taking the Q train because of homeless and other unpleasant individuals who hang out at the station but who can’t be forcibly removed.

“Very few of them take the train now,” Rabbi Kelman said. “Instead, they Uber, carpool or walk. Some walk more than a mile each way.”

But the officials emphasized that people should call 911 anytime a homeless or other individual chases, threatens or harasses anyone, or is seen sleeping in a bank vestibule, because immediate action can then be taken.

“While we appreciate the Police Department’s efforts to address these concerns, it is also our own obligation to report what we see — as soon as we see it,” Yeger said. “Don’t wait till you bump into me on the street and tell me what you saw a week ago.”


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