Homeless camping on Coney Island Creek

Jose Luis Garcia and Isidro Hernandez in front of the shantytown they share with three friends on the banks of Coney Island Creek.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

A group of homeless men has staked a claim on shorefront property along the Coney Island Creek — constructing a shanty that can sleep five with amenities including seaside dining, a private vegetable garden and WaveRunner pleasure cruises.

Isidro Hernandez, a 42-year-old out-of-work janitor with a green thumb and enough wilderness know-how to survive the outdoors, has been living in a wooded section Six Diamonds Park — which is connected to Drier Offerman Park that abuts the creek — with his bunk mates since 2006.

“It’s not that bad if you know how to survive,” Hernandez explained. “We’re doing OK.”

The homeless men share a five-by-10-foot plastic tarp lean-to stuffed with blankets, a carpet and an upholstered green armchair. Each day, the hard-luck gang can be found cooking their food in two pots over a wood fire at the edge of the creek.

Carlos Montoya, 32, came to “chez shanty” four years ago after losing his job at a Neptune Avenue restaurant in Sea Gate. Living outdoors was tough at first, he said, but you can’t beat the $0 rent.

“There’s no work so I don’t have any money to pay rent right now,” Montoya said.

The quintet work together as a collective, supporting their meager lifestyle by collecting and selling scrap metal to a junk yard they found across from the park.

But its not all toil and sleeping under a tattered tarp. In the summer, Hernandez and his friends feast on clams, striped bass and snapper they pull from the creek — and spend their free time zipping up and down the waterway on a beat-up Jet Ski that someone gave to them a few years ago.

Hernandez and his pals will soon be celebrating their fifth anniversary at the park, but nobody knows they’re there: members of Community Board 13 say they haven’t received any complaints about Hernandez’s shanty. Neither has the city’s Parks Department, although an agency spokeswoman admitted that Six Diamonds has a history of attracting homeless because it’s “not lockable” at night.

“The shoreline at Six Diamonds is a remote section of the park that is checked on a weekly basis,” the spokeswoman explained, adding that Parks employees couldn’t find the shanty during a search of the woods last week.

Yet its there, and Hernandez has no plans of moving, even though a homeless shelter is just three miles away in Sheepshead Bay.

Hernandez says he would rather sleep outdoors, where he can live by his own rules.

“I like living out here more,” he said. “Except when it snows.”

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

Isidro Hernandez has been living at the camp for six years.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

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