Local leaders to start ‘homeless taskforce’

Local leaders to start ‘homeless taskforce’
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

A city contractor tasked with getting the homeless off of Bay Ridge streets is not doing a sufficient job, so local leaders are taking the matter into their own hands.

The Department of Homeless Services pays social services group Breaking Ground to find people who make their homes in area parks, local bank vestibules, and commercial thoroughfares and offer them help getting off the streets. Breaking Ground does some canvassing and also gets leads from 311 calls, but it really needs to be talking directly to Bay Ridgites, one local homeless advocate said.

“Breaking ground isn’t working. The process isn’t working and it needs to be expanded,” said Liam McCabe, who hosts an annual charity run in memory of his father who died of exposure while living on the streets. “So let’s get merchants and stakeholders in the same room with the city and Breaking Ground so that we can help point them in the right direction. It gives them another source of information to draw on.”

When residents call 311 to report a homeless person who may need assistance, the agency tells Breaking Ground and Breaking Ground sends caseworkers to offer help. But sometimes the vagrants venture elsewhere before help arrives — in which case, the workers just leave.

McCabe is pushing Community Board 10 to create a “homeless task force” that would help those canvassing the streets establish links with local merchants — that way local leaders and area business owners can help direct Breaking Ground’s efforts more effectively.

Business leaders are receptive to the idea.

“It sounds like a positive way of addressing the issue in the area,” said Patt Condren, the president of the 86th Street Business Improvement District. “We intend to participate and support the city and the community board in their efforts.”

Breaking Ground’s outreach teams respond to 311 calls regarding homeless and on a daily basis visit areas across the borough with known encampments — such as Leif Ericson Park on the Bay Ridge–Sunset Park border. Teams go out in pairs and are often accompanied by social workers, psychiatrists, and medical professionals who can treat homeless on the streets if need be, said a spokeswoman for Breaking Ground.

The goal is to get homeless indoors with offers of shelter and services including housing and employment help, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services. But the already-daunting task of trying to convince the destitute — many of whom suffer from mental illness and substance abuse — is even tougher because Breaking Ground workers are apparently having trouble locating them in the first place, said the district manager of Community Board 10.

“I think getting the word out that people need to call 311 to let them know exactly where people are with as much detail as they can is really important,” said Josphine Beckmann. “Many people will just call the elected officials offices or just mention it but the best method is 311. If there is anyway we can assist them we want to.”

Beckmann is working to assemble the task force’s first meeting during the Community Board 10 Welfare Committee’s January meeting. If the meeting is fruitful, they’ll do it every month, said Beckmann.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Lending a hand: Residents are reporting more and more street homeless in Bay Ridge, and local leaders say they want to help the city respond.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf