Sign of the times: A homeless encampment rises amid traffic near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

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A Large homeless encampment constructed beside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway
Photo by Dean Moses

A large homeless encampment constructed beside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between Exits 30 and 32 showcases the difficult times New York finds itself in.

From the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds cash-strapped and street bound, to rough sleepers transported to unused hotels in an attempt to halt the spread of the deadly virus, the visibility of the city’s forgotten souls has increased as of late.

The site is now particularly visible in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the crude, makeshift shelter appearing alongside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway adjacent to Rodney Street has been raising eyebrows among neighbors and others passing through the area.

The meek shelter’s entranceway. Photo by Dean Moses

On a rather remote patch of grass near Exit 30, a large shack strung together by wooden planks, chunks of plastic, and sheets of weather-worn tarp has been erected amidst the sounds of hurtling vehicles from the highway. The structure stands amid zooming cars and a large pile of garbage.

What appears to be broken plastic furniture from children’s playsets, metal fencing, blankets, clothing, and other debris are also strewn about the area. A well-treaded board serves as a walkway through a maze of carriages tipping with hefty plastic bags and empty crates to the dwelling’s entrance, which is draped by a thick green blanket.

When this sheet is peeled back, it reveals an opening obscured by more debris, seemingly utilized to ward off unwanted guests.   

Pulling back the curtain. Photo by Dean Moses

 amNewYork Metro attempted to make contact with the person or persons residing within the encampment, but this effort was not acknowledged.

In order to better understand the situation, amNewYork Metro reached out to the Department of Social Services (DSS) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to discern if they are aware of the situation and if they have made contact. 

“Outreach teams canvass this area regularly to engage individuals in need and have already visited this specific location twice this week. DSNY and DOT will be addressing this condition and we (the Department of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services) and our teams will be on hand to provide outreach services, including a range of shelter options, to any individual(s) who may be residing there,” a spokesman from DSS-DHS said.

The spokesman touched on how the agencies look to address circumstances such as these as well as the efforts they say they have been making over the last year.

A massive pile of garbage is mounting beside the shelter. Photo by Dean Moses

“In our city, we don’t allow obstructions of public places or encampments, and anytime the city encounters, learns of, or receives a report about a condition on the street that needs to be addressed, the City addresses it as quickly as possible, with multiple city agencies responding as appropriate,” the DSS-DHS representative said.

With so many large items scattered so close to such a busy roadway, the potential of a strong wind blowing debris onto the expressway and causing a collision appears to be rather high.

It is with these grim possibilities in mind DSS and DHS say they plan on taking action in a meaningful way that will aid every endangered party.        

“In the past year since January 2020, as part of our ongoing effort to increase service options and pathways off the streets for New Yorkers in need, we’ve opened more than 1,300 specialized beds dedicated to serving and supporting unsheltered individuals, including new Safe Haven beds and stabilization beds we established in commercial hotel locations – and these vital beds are already proving to be an invaluable resource for outreach teams, helping hundreds of individuals who were residing on the streets get back on their feet,” a DSS-DHS representative said. 

amNewYork Metro also reached out to Brooklyn Community Board 6 and Council Member Stephen Levin for comment on this story. We are awaiting responses.

The rear of the shelter. Photo by Dean Moses