The corner of Atlantic and Bedford Avenues in Crown Heights is Ground Zero of this middle-income neighborhood’s high anxiety.
For the last two years, neighbors have complained to anyone who will listen that groups of men become an occupying force in the sidewalks around the huge 350-bed Atlantic Armory Men’s Shelter.
On several recent mornings, the men were out en masse.
Two Department of Homeless Services police officers leaned against the fence outside the 800-bed red-brick shelter. About 50 feet away a man nonchalantly urinated against the facility wall.
Across Pacific St., men were sprawled on chairs and milk crates. One sat under a “No Loitering” sign.
An unconscious man stretched across the stoop of an apartment building, his legs sprawled down the steps. Another lay peacefully with hands folded across his stomach, comfortable on a blue rug spread out on the sidewalk next to an open newspaper.
On different days the Daily News observed groups ranging in number from 12 to 18. At times they had special visitors.
The foreman of a nearby construction site showed up and called out, “They got some work around the corner, man. You want some work?” None of the men respond and he left, alone.
A van showed up and dropped off boxes of bagels and coffee. In about an hour food remnants and paper cups littered the sidewalk.
After Citibike installed a dock across from the shelter, men started using it as a sleeping camp.
From the window of her Pacific St. apartment, Jackie Henderson, 52, views the spectacle of misery on a daily basis.
When she first arrived in 2010, there was a handful of men. Last summer the group grew to between a dozen and 20 and has stayed that way, she said.
From her window, Hederson, a teacher, has photographed men asleep on easy chairs, curled up on the sidewalk, urinating in between parked cars.
Residents say that church groups drop off food — a well-intentioned gesture that reinforces the men’s desire to maintain their sidewalk turf.
In May, DHS police added more officers to the block after a surge of robberies in the streets around the shelter.
“Sometimes the NYPD comes. They (the men) are back in 20 minutes,” she said. “Men are kept away from the sidewalk next to the Armory but nobody does anything about men who cross the street.”
Another neighbor who didn’t want her name revealed said she recently witnessed a couple having sex on the sidewalk across from a church. The pastor had to run out and chase them away.
Last summer the neighborhood erupted in anger when the city proposed adding yet another shelter down the street — 100 beds for mentally ill men at Bergen St. and New York Ave. Within a half-mile radius of that spot there are 13 other shelters.
The neighborhood won some concessions when they filed a lawsuit to stop the city, but the judge allowed the shelter to go forward. It opened in July.
Chuck Moss, a longtime homeowner who lives a block away from the new shelter, says the high concentration of shelters has transformed life in his neighborhood of moderately priced row-houses and brownstones.
At the same time, he and others say, the issue has been exacerbated by the tsunami of gentrification that has swept the neighborhood in recent years. Moss says an influx of mostly white and young residents into the neighborhood has led to a new kind of disrespect for the mostly black longtime residents.
“What we’re finding is there is little effort to distinguish homeless people living in shelters from legacy people, some of whom are very educated,” he said. “The indigenous legacy neighborhood is African-American and Caribbean. When you have a shelter presence that concentrates people of lower income, it’s a difficult task for the new gentrifiers to tell the difference.”
Fior Ortiz, another longtime resident who was active in the lawsuit to stop the latest shelter, worries that the nonprofit running the new facility won’t hold up its end of the deal and provide services to the residents.
“We hope they’re successful,” she said. “We hope the group does what it says it would do because if it’s not successful, it’s going to make our lives a living hell.”