By Karen Rempel
Have you ever had to clean up a large pile of stinking human poop from your doorstep? Not the flaming bag of poo Halloween prank (which is usually dog poo), but a pile of poo topped with a pool of urine that spreads across your stoop and welcome mat?
Whether you live in a classic brownstone or a NYCHA housing complex, no one wants to deal with human waste on their doorstep.
On the evening of July 1, the day after the Mayor’s office announced NYC is defunding the police to the tune of $1B, a homeless man continued his torment of my 80-year old friends, who live on West 10th Street. He had been sleeping on their stoop for a month, requiring the people in the building to step over him to enter or leave. He refused to leave when asked, and made mocking gestures at my friends. He would only leave if they could corral a burly man to help. Day after day, my friend had to clean up the human waste and food smears the mentally ill man, let’s call him T, left behind. Vomit, urine, feces, and spit. Delivery people were afraid to step over him to make deliveries, and visitors to the building likewise. The church next door also cleaned up his human waste day after day. I saw T several times, as did many on the block, and he was always brushing at his arms. Neighbors heard him shouting sometimes, and muttering “No.” Clearly T is ill and needs help, but his actions are also intimidating and frightening.
On July 1st, my friend was in despair, and called me to ask for help. She asked if one of my imposing male friends could help get T to leave. I called a friend who lives nearby, and I asked my doorman, but neither was willing to get close in case T had COVID. My doorman said my friend should call the police. She called the 6th precinct, and they said they would send someone. I went over to my friend’s place and we waited and waited for the police to arrive. Having polluted my friend’s stoop, T was on the nearby church steps, another of his favorite places to hang and sleep. After waiting about 30 minutes, my friend called the police again. She explained the situation, that he had defecated and urinated on the stairs, and that she wanted to file a report. Again, the police said they would come, but didn’t show up. After waiting for over two hours, she called again. This time, the dispatcher said, “We don’t do homeless. You have to call the Homeless Helpline. We have budget cuts, we can’t come over there.”
I called the precinct myself while I strolled around the block. T was still on the church steps. The desk officer told me to call 911. I went back inside, and we talked about what to do. My friend was demoralized by the lack of police response, and reluctant to call 911. She was going to let it go, and decided to just clean up the mess since the police weren’t responding. I helped her by handing her newspaper and other items while she cleaned up the feces and urine. It was getting late, so after we went in and had another discussion, I went downstairs to leave. I looked through the glass doors of the building and saw that T was now spread out across the stoop. He had waited until my friend cleaned up his disgusting mess, and now he was ready to bunk down for the evening. At this point, my friend called 911.
We watched through the front window, and after a few minutes a patrol car went by. It didn’t stop. I ran down and raced to the end of the block to speak to the officers. T had hidden in nearby bushes next to the church. I told the police he had been there a minute ago. They said they couldn’t do anything unless they caught him blocking the entrance, but added, “Call us anytime. And shine a bright light on the stoop.” My friend already had a 100-watt bulb shining on the stoop.
I went back in and told my friend what they said, and then went home, deeply troubled. I have no doubt T emerged from the bushes and went back on the stoop after I left. He continued his stoop shenanigans for another two weeks, during which time my friend repeatedly asked for assistance from an imposing male friend to shoo T away. Finally T left for good.
We’ve all heard similar stories about increasing incidents where homeless people are frightening local residents. I was yelled at twice by mentally ill homeless men on the way to the grocery store last week, and one of them bashed and broke the exit door at LifeThyme. It seems that homelessness is an intractable problem in many cities in the US and Canada. I feel empathy for the people who are discarded by society, with nowhere to go and no one to help them. Homeless Services claims that they are available 24/7, but it seems their interventions take many months to complete, because it takes time to build trust, get to know the homeless people, and figure out the best way to help them. Obviously, people who are mentally ill, or struggling with addiction, or both, need more than just a place to sleep in a homeless shelter. These forgotten people need ongoing care in a safe place.
And what about our friends and neighbors? We all need a safe place to live.