A homeless man underneath the train tracks at Myrtle Avenue and Fresh Pond Road in Glendale, only a block from the Community Board 5 office, has been refusing help for weeks, area leaders say.
Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District Executive Director Ted Renz called his presence there “an ongoing issue.”
Community members say the man, Pawel, has refused help.
The Rev. Mike Lopez of All Saints Church said the city has done some cleanups of the man’s belongings but that area residents continue to bring him food, money, coats and blankets.
“I think it comes out of a good place from people who don’t want to see him get hurt,” Lopez told the Chronicle Tuesday. “He’s a rather charming gentleman if you’ve ever had the opportunity to deal with him.”
But the residents might be hurting more than helping.
“Our hope is to bring them indoors. As long as they’re being supported with their needs it makes it much harder to bring them off the street,” Lopez said of homeless people, though he acknowledged telling residents not to help “is almost impossible.”
Lopez has known the man for five years. Lopez said Pawel, who is in his mid-40s, was a working member of the community, a carpenter by trade, who became homeless three years ago.
Lopez said Pawel has family but declined to discuss that any further.
“He knows his rights,” Lopez said. “He knows he can’t be forced away.”
Accepting outreach efforts is voluntary. In accordance with the state Mental Hygiene Law, street homeless New Yorkers cannot be involuntarily removed from the streets unless they pose a danger to themselves or others.
A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Homeless Services said nonprofit service provider Breaking Ground canvasses the area more than 20 times a week and actively engages 24 verified homeless individuals encountered on the streets in an effort to offer them services and get them indoors.
“As the weather gets colder, our outreach teams continue to be out across the five boroughs, implementing best practices, latest health guidance and Code Blue protocols whenever appropriate, as they engage unsheltered New Yorkers and encourage them to accept services,” DHS said.
Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) told the Chronicle he visited Pawel with his chief of staff, Daniel Kurzyna. Holden said he stayed back as Kurzyna, who speaks Polish, approached him.
“We don’t want to gang up on him,” Holden said. “Dan said he looked white as a sheet.”
The lawmaker wants to see the city invoke Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to order certain individuals with serious mental illness to stay in treatment for up to a year.
“I didn’t examine him but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if this man would rather live under the trestle than be in a warm room then he can’t make rational decisions,” Holden said, adding, “Obviously it’s the wrong decision to pick being outside in 20 degree weather.”
But Lopez said Pawel has had bad experiences in shelters.
“They feel that it’s safer to be on the street and they wanted to be connected locally to their communities and I think that’s one of the reasons he stays,” Lopez said.
The reverend believes the city needs to improve its shelter system.
“Can you imagine choosing to live on the streets of New York City in January over a shelter because it’s unsafe?” Lopez said.
CB 5 Chairman Vinny Arcuri said Pawel told him “he’s just waiting to die.”
Board member Peggy O’Kane asked, “Are we going to let them lie there and freeze to death?”
But Arcuri said the Department of Homeless Services is not allowed to remove the men if they refuse help.
“Homeless Services, and I apologize for my language, sucks,” he said. “They have no idea what to do with people. This mayor is a total disgrace that allows people to live on the streets, endangering themselves, endangering the rest of us.”
Lopez said what is needed is a look at medical and mental health and what problems those have presented.
“The approach of looking at him, ‘Oh, he’s disgusting sleeping on the sidewalk’ is not the right approach,” he said.