Shunning heroin un-chic, homeless youth head west

By Muneeza Iqbal

Washington Square Park has recently become home to a new species. Not a new type of bird or squirrel, but a group of tattooed, homeless, young revelers, who sip on drinks tucked in brown paper bags and often play music.

Hollywood, a guitarist, used to hang out at Union Square but moved to Washington Square Park and prefers it to any other park in the Village.

“It’s chiller down here,” he said. “No one judges you.”

He has two friends who travel around the country on freight trains.

“But they always come back,” he said. “There’s a magnetic force around this city.”

The core group that can always be found in Washington Square Park call themselves Asylum. They say they’re bound together by music, drinking, discussion of deep ideas, frolicking and just having fun.

They often have friends who visit from other parts of the city, and newbies who integrate into the group easily, as long as they are willing to have fun.

Hollywood claims that the Sixth Precinct police know the members of Asylum, and are aware that they are not troublemakers. According to him, the officers know they drink and smoke, but because they never bother anyone else, the police don’t harass them.

“They know that this is our home,” he said. “If someone is making trouble, we’ll regulate it ourselves.”

However, Hollywood claimed that this isn’t the case in Tompkins Square Park where rumors are that the police have driven some homeless people out of the park permanently.

“The hard drugs are in Tompkins,” said Hollywood.

Russell, another Washington Square Park regular, added.

“I don’t go to Tompkins Square Park because there’s a f—ing bad vibe there. It’s Heroinville!”

Police officers make it extremely hard for the homeless to stay in Tompkins Square Park anyway. They tend to confiscate transients’ belongings as well as harass them incessantly, the transients say.

“You can’t even lie in the grass,” Russell said. “Just because we are homeless doesn’t mean we don’t have rights!”

Segments of homeless people have migrated to Washington Square Park from Tompkins Square Park, according to Hollywood. He claimed that they have assimilated well with the people in the Greenwich Village park.

This summer, none of the Tompkins Square Park regulars, known as “travelers” because of their migratory nature, have returned to the East Village park.

According to Andrea Stella, executive director at The Space at Tompkins — an organization that assists the transient population in and around the park — the reasons why they’ve avoided the park this summer is the heightened police presence and a “domino effect.”

“If someone walks in and sees that no one is there, they are going to leave as well,” she said. “So that has been happening pretty consistently.”

Therefore, the travelers have taken refuge in other areas of the Village. Some people claim that they have also been spotted spanging for change Uptown.

A group of three young travelers interviewed recently outside the Whole Foods Market on East Houston St. were staying out in Coney Island, where they said there is “more food.” They were camping out in a friend’s backyard. They, too, said Tompkins Square’s being stereotyped as a heroin spot was a turnoff to them. Fewer travelers, in general, seem to be coming to New York City this summer, they said.

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson