Homelessness Is the Topic of Presentation at Precinct Council

February 22, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — At meetings of the 84th Precinct Community Council, which represents a group of communities stretching from Boerum Hill to DUMBO, the main topic of discussion is usually fighting crime, with traffic as a close second.

However, the police aren’t here only to fight crime. They’re charged with a host of other responsibilities, and at times they use the services of a civilian agency to help them.

Common Ground’s Street to Home project, which helps get chronically homeless people off the streets and into supported housing, has been working with the 84th Precinct for several years. On Tuesday night, Shana Wertheimer, community director of the project, addressed the precinct council and answered questions.

To begin with, Wertheimer said that housing the homeless, even at public expense, is cost-effective. It costs $165 a night to house someone in jail and $55 a night to house that person in a shelter, but only $35 a night to house that person in his own dwelling unit.

Street to Home, she said, operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, in every kind of weather.

In Brooklyn, the program now has 140 clients. While some may initially resist being placed in housing, Common Ground seeks to help them in any way possible. The typical client, says Wertheimer, has been out on the street for an average of six years.

To be eligible for help from the program, added Wertheimer, a person must have been homeless for nine months. When asked by an audience member how this can be verified, Wertheimer said that its staffers interview other homeless people, merchants and area residents and try to get an estimate.

“It could be something like, if there’s a building superintendent who lets a homeless person sleep on his roof, we’ll ask him, ‘How long has this person been going up there?’” she said.

Deputy Inspector Mark DiPaolo praised the program, saying that his officers often work with Common Ground when they encounter a homeless person. “I’ve seen them reach people who I didn’t think anyone could ever reach,” he said.

In response to a question about mental illness, Wertheimer said that an estimated one-third of the city’s street homeless people are mentally ill. Often, the fact that they stop taking their “meds,” or no longer have access to them, leads to homelessness.

Another audience member asked whether the homeless can pay for housing, and whether they can hold jobs. Wertheimer said that some cannot be expected to hold jobs, but many are eligible for benefits they’re not aware of, such as veterans’ benefits, that can help pay for their supported apartments.

As always, DiPaolo and Community Council President Leslie Lewis gave out “Cop of the Month” awards. This month there were two honorees: Rob Schwartz and William Lenze, partners who work the midnight shift. DiPaolo talked a little about working “midnights,” calling it a rewarding job but a difficult one.

During the past month, the two partners made several arrests. In one incident, they arrested a man who was breaking into his ex-wife’s apartment on Pacific Street while she was still there.

In another, they arrested a man who tried to rob a passerby on Duffield Street with a gun. When the would-be victim refused, the robber ran away. Schwartz and Lenze arrested the robber without injury. DiPaolo described the perpetrator in this incident as a “violent parolee.”

Lenze was not able to be present to accept his award, but Schwartz accepted the honorary plaque.

In addition, Paule Herodote of Transportation Alternatives and Eric McClure from Park Slope Neighbors gave a presentation about traffic problems along the busiest stretch of Jay Street near the courthouse area. They presented a short video that showed several vehicles making illegal U-turns and Y-turns, others blocking bikelanes, and an Access-a-Ride blocking a bus lane for seven minutes.

DiPaolo replied that his officers have stepped up traffic enforcement on Jay Street recently, and Lewis said he has asked the city Department of Transportation to repaint traffic lanes on the street in a way that would reduce problems.

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