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Vagrants, vagabonds find home in Leif Ericson Park

Zonked: Why sleep on the streets when you can sleep on Leif Ericson Park’s lush grass?
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Homeless people are making a home for themselves in Leif Ericson Park and locals are now worried they could bring with them a return to the bad old days of the 1980s.

Since 2010, residents have called the city’s complaint line more about homeless encampments in Leif Ericson — itself named for an itinerant Norseman — more than any other park between Sunset Park and Dyker Beach Golf Course, city records show.

And the problem is growing, locals said.

“We have noticed — over the past couple of years — that we get a higher volume of homeless folks in the area during the summer,” said John Quaglione, a spokesman for state Sen. Martin Golden.

Sleeping on park benches has become prevalent and some are even bringing with them other comforts of indoor accomodations.

“They had quite a set-up — furniture and everything,” said Anrada Popa, referring to one homesteader who set up a table and two chairs and hanged a baby doll from a nearby tree in a section of the park between Third and Fourth avenues.

Popa added that dealing with the homeless has become a fact of life in the park during the past six months.

“I’m not scared,” she said. “My dog got close to them and one got a little aggressive, but they weren’t really bad. He made a comment but I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Hanging out: Homeless people have been sleeping in Leif Ericson Park — including this guy, who brought a living room set and strung up a children’s doll on a noose near the Shore Road overpass at Third Avenue.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Three apparent drifters were seen in a one-block segment of the six-block-long park on Aug. 18, and one confirmed that he has been spending nights in the park because of issues at home.

“I had trouble with my wife,” said a man named Lester who told Brooklyn Daily he has lived in the park for the last “two or three days.”

Lester said he has health problems but doesn’t like to go to the hospital. He would not say the last time he sought help at a homeless shelter.

The Parks Department and the 68th Precinct are aware of the issue and working on it, officials said. Parks enforcement patrol officers are focusing their efforts on areas near playgrounds, according to a department spokeswoman.

Homelessness is not illegal, and getting caught in a park after closing only results in a summons, but the city encourages people to call 911 in some situations — including if a homeless person is a danger to himself or others, ill outside during a cold-weather emergency, or blocking a cash machine, according to 311’s online complaint system.

It is important to report the homeless, because doing so helps connect them with city services and lets the lawmakers better identify areas of need, Quaglione said.

“Failing to report it is a failure to the homeless folks, because you can get them the opportunity for care and services,” he said. “It’s important, it goes through 311 so the city can track it — it may lead to an increase in resources to the area.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Nap-tial bliss: This man, who goes by the name Lester, said he has lived sporadically on the streets since his wife kicked him out of the house.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

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