Illegal clothing bins plague Sunset Park

June 3, 2014 Heather Chin
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Illegal clothing bins have proliferated for at least two years along Fifth Avenue and other commercial stretches in Sunset Park, inviting residents to donate unwanted clothes to those in need. But donations don’t go to charity, allege some residents and business owners, who want the city to do more to remove the bins quickly and penalize the companies that put them there.

“It’s very sad to realize that hundreds of thousands of dollars of clothing and shoes that residents thought they were donating to the poor were instead being used by greedy business interests,” said Renee Giordano, executive director of the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (SPBID).

Giordano said that she received SPBID’s first complaint call regarding the bins about two years ago from a local merchant who said someone had placed a “huge metal clothing drop-box bin” right next to his store, without his permission. Since then, dozens more “sitings” began streaming in via phone, email, social media and word of mouth, Giordano said. Calls to the phone number listed on the bin went unanswered.

According to Jovita Sosa-Vergara, a board member with civic advocacy group Sunset Park Restoration, discussions with neighbors throughout Brooklyn have led to them determining that “at least one of the companies behind the bins was a for-profit business in Italy that purported to ‘donate’ part of its profit to charity and that they were providing much needed jobs for the poor. But none of this could be proved.”

With this in mind, “Sunset Park Restoration and the Sunset Park BID call upon the City Council to pass a law that would require an immediate removal of any object left in a public place without permission,” said Sosa-Vergara.

Two such bills are being drafted by city councilmembers, one of whom is Bay Ridge Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who plans to introduce it as soon as it is ready.

“We’re working on language to make it as strong as possible,” said Gentile’s spokesperson, Justin Brannan. “We’re taking people’s ideas from various complaints and turning that into legislation. There’s another bill being drafted and we signed onto it, but don’t think it goes far enough, as far as the amount of time that these bins are allowed to sit there.”

Currently, DSNY enacts a 30-to-90-day process in which DSNY workers confirm the bin is on city property, then put a sticker on the bin noting that it will be removed in 30 days, and then if the bin is still there, remove it.

In practice, this gives the bin owners plenty of time to collect clothing and then move the bin to a new spot every 30 days.

“Once tagged, they should be picked up as soon as possible,” said Brannan. “Also, there are ideas about possible fines levied against these groups. So there should be a little bit more responsibility put on these companies that dump these things and just run away.”

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