Brooklyn homeless shanty near BQE unveiled as apparent drug den

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The homeless encampment beside the BQE is being torn open and its secrets laid bare.
Photo by Dean Moses

The cleanup of an apparent Brooklyn drug den has begun.

Last week, amNewYork Metro brought to light the emergence of a large makeshift homeless shelter beside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between Exit 30 and Exit 32. Now the encampment’s secrets have been uncovered, literally all over the ground.

Like a belly sliced open, the structure — which was bolted to the earth — has had its guts laid bare, along with its ugly secrets.

One of many needles found around the site. Photo by Dean Moses

With the occupants now gone or removed, cleanup crews face the arduous task of digging through and extracting the filth left behind. amNewYork Metro has learned the shelter seemed to be an apparent drug den.

Amidst everyday trash items such as cardboard boxes and plastic bags, countless needles could be observed resting in the dirt along with bottles of urine. Perhaps most shocking of all, concealed within a woman’s purse appeared to be a stash of illegal substances.

“A bike would arrive and drop something off. The next day there would be people gathered all around [the encampment],” an unnamed witness told amNewYork Metro. 

Drugs concealed within a purse. Photo by Dean Moses

This hovel not only housed drugs but also boasted its own crude drainage system carved into the muddy ground in addition to sporting its own power supply. The person or persons who built the structure had tapped into a nearby street lamp that overlooked the expressway and had been siphoning electricity, powering not only light sources but also a television and a DVD player.   

“I have never seen anything like this,” Kevin Flanigan said, tipping over a box full to the brim with DVDs. A member of Segel & Co., Inc, the cleanup crew hired to sanitize the area. “We found rocks of heroin, needles, crack, weed bongs… It’s pretty tough.”

William Segel is the president of the cleanup company that is currently sifting through the macabre trove of drugs and dangerous items like knives that litter the location. Clearing out the debris that could potentially pose a danger to oncoming vehicles mere feet from the BQE roadway is no easy task. Segel was shocked but not surprised by the mess.

The encampment’s inner bowels. Photo by Dean Moses

“It was disheartening to see the amount of debris left all across NYC. Under bridges, side of the road on a highway and right in the middle of neighborhoods,” he said, adding “We ensure proper PPE is worn, the crew needs to be certified to pick up the many needles we find across every single encampment. We dispose of all the needles first and then go ahead and remove all of the furniture, debris etc.”

In this dire financial climate brought about by the pandemic, Segel says his crew only recently began clearing out encampments like these.

“They have progressively gotten worse. We go anywhere from under a bridge, side of the highway and right in the middle of a neighborhood that homeless people decided to use as a camp,” Segel said.

A worker from Segel & Co., Inc begins removing debris. Photo by Dean Moses

Depending on the weather, it could take one week to fully remove the encampment. Members of Segel & Co are requesting that the public be patient while they work and not interfere with cones placed around the area. They also state that if the community comes across more encampments, they should report it to the Department of Transportation.

The Department of Social Services, Department of Homeless Services, and city agencies as a whole prohibit encampments.  If a site is reported, the DSS responds with outreach to the individuals residing within the encampment and inform them of the range of services available.  

A representative from the NYS DOT and outreach teams from DSS-DHS visited the site to provide outreach, but as of March 15th, they have not encountered anyone living at the site. City agencies and outreach groups will continue to address the conditions of this site over the course of the next week.

According to DSS, whenever they are made aware of these encampments the city addresses them immediately and in a compassionate manner with outreach teams on hand to encourage them to accept transitional services. The city cannot forcible remove an individual or their belongings without notice, unless it poses a danger. 

amNewYork Metro reached out to Council Member Stephen Levin for comment. 

The hacked street lamp. Photo by Dean Moses