‘Our kids have seen too much already’: New Greenwich Village group talks drug and homeless issues at first meeting

Neighbors crowded into a townhouse on Washington Place for the meeting. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY GABE HERMAN | Greenwich Village residents gathered at the inaugural meeting of the West Washington Place Block Association on Sept. 18 to discuss problems on the block, including higher drug use and homelessness in recent years.

Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of the Strand Book Store at Broadway and E. 12 St., and Rosalind Resnick organized the event, which Resnick hosted at one of her townhouses on the block.

Residents crowded into the townhouse, and Resnick said it was a much bigger crowd than she anticipated. While she expected around 13 people to come, there were several dozen there.

Resnick credited a preview article in The Villager about the meeting, which officers from the Sixth Precinct also cited as their reason for attending.

Each side of Washington Pl. has scaffolding up, which residents say can be popular spots for drug use. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

The residents of Washington Place, just west of Washington Square Park, voiced many of the same problems that Wyden and Resnick originally told The Villager were their driving reasons for forming the block association.

Drug use on the street was out of control, many attendees said.

One neighbor claimed that people shoot up under scaffolding on the block that has poor lighting. A woman said she saw a group of four people smoking crack, and they wouldn’t let her into her house. She said there have been drugs in the area for a long time, but noted that lately, “It feels more dangerous.”

“Our kids have seen too much already,” another woman said, “like in the morning on the way to school.”

One resident suggested an education campaign for tourists, who don’t seem to understand where that money is going when they give to someone on the street.

But many attendees said the real concern was with the drug dealers, and that they had compassion for users who needed help.

The corner of Washington Pl. and Sixth Ave. on a recent afternoon. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Police Officer Nicholas Virgilio, a Neighborhood Coordination Officer (NCO) from the Sixth Precinct, said that in recent years, there were fewer cops on the streets.

“If I was running the show, there would be cops on the beat again, walking,” Virgilio said. There used to be narcotics teams in each precinct, he noted, but now those teams are borough-wide.

Police can’t search people for drugs unless they’re outwardly seen, according to state law, the officer said. Residents at the meeting said that a person may shoot up so fast, that by the time police arrive it’s too late.

“I share your frustration,” one of the officers in attendance said. “It’s difficult with the time delay.”

Another NCO, Police Officer Brian Garcia, said that police have been going through Washington Square Park and making drug arrests, usually nabbing around 15 people per sweep.

“Unfortunately we can’t do that every day,” he said, and added they plan to do that once or twice a month.

Police officers also said that surveillance cameras can help deter crime. Some residents asked about hiring private security. It would be costly, but officers said that it’s legal to do.

A view down Washington Place, facing east toward Sixth Avenue. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

A woman at the meeting said that cops are not equipped to deal with mental health issues, and that there is a need for mental health crisis units and people who can address needs of many users for rehabilitation.

“I don’t think it’s going to be solved with just what’s been brought up so far,” she said.

A few other residents advocated for talking to the people hanging out on the block and forming relationships with them. While some people are dangerous, they said, others are humane and will actually help clean blocks and look after them if they are treated by residents with respect.

A representative from state Senator Brad Hoylman’s office was at the meeting to listen, and many wondered why a representative from NYU wasn’t at the meeting, or from St. Joseph’s Church on the corner. Resnick said that people from both had been invited.

At the meeting’s conclusion, people volunteered for committees, including security, fundraising,  beautification, and press and social media.

It was agreed that the next meeting would be in about two months, possibly at a bigger space like the LGBTQ Center at 208 W. 13 St.

Resnick added that the group’s formation was not just for civic matters, but also for making connections and having fun. To that end, she invited everyone to a Halloween party next month.

“We’re so happy to have neighbors like this,” Wyden added.