Residents fear a return to the worst days of "Needle Park"
On October 9th, park-goers found the deceased body of a homeless man in Verdi Square Park. It took authorities over an hour to come and remove the man's body.
Unfortunately, this is only one incident that is indicative of what residents say is a larger problem inside the small square near the 72nd Street subway entrance, and Upper West Side City Council Member Gale Brewer has written a letter to the Parks Commissioner asking the department to clean up the rats, trash and deluge of homeless, mentally-disturbed individuals in Verdi Square.
"The incident at Riverside Park where a homeless man slashed innocent bystanders has greatly upset many of my constituents, and we need to ensure that a similar situation does not happen at Verdi Square Park," Council Member and borough-president elect- Brewer writes in her letter to Parks Commissioner Veronica White.
Despite being located in the middle of a busy Broadway intersection, and being a focal point of the Upper West Side community, Verdi Square has historically been a haven for the homeless and drug deals when the sun goes down, and was once known as "Needle Park." In the 1980s an effort was made to resuscitate the park, with flowers planted and the Giuseppe Verdi statue refurbished in 2004. Despite improvements, residents like Bruce Teitelbaum, who lives diagonal to the park and used to be the chief of staff for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said that the park is still filled day and night with mentally-ill homeless people.
"The park is absolute madness sometimes with scores of homeless people who have some serious issues who need to be somewhere else," said Teitelbaum, who has spoken to Gale Brewer and Scott Stringer's office about the incident. He said that multiple residents in his building have also sent out complaints. "It's only a matter of time until someone really gets hurt."
He went on to explain the host of "Regulars" at the park, including a woman who regularly relieves herself on park premises and a shirtless man who regularly yells obscenities at passers-by.
Others, like Bobby Cesay, have also noticed problems with people inhabiting the park. Though according to him, the situation isn't as dire as Teitelbaum makes it out to be.
"I think it's less homeless people now, it used to be worse," said Cesay, who has been giving out Metro newspapers every morning in the park for two years. "When I do see them, they usually start screaming or yelling though they don't touch anyone. They really need to clean up the trash around here though."
The trash problem has been remediated with the recent installation of solar-powered trash compaction baskets. And as for the rat problem that has been plaguing the park since an outcry in 2010? Council Member Brewer says that a landscaping re-design will help make the square less attractive to rodents.
Even if the pests are gone, Reverend Andrew Stehlik, the pastor at the neighboring Rutger's Church, says that he has a real problem with lumping mentally-ill people and rats into one list of "park issues."
"I find this to be a really a very sorry situation in our city," said Stehlik. "How would it feel if this happened to your grandparents? We should take responsibility for poor people even if they're mentally challenged they simply are not finding help. We say how inconvenient this is but it is a real problem."