NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — 2016 has been a year of complaints and controversy surrounding the homeless crisis in New York City.
Critics say the de Blasio administration has struggled to respond. CBS2’s Tony Aiello took an exclusive look at a new NYPD outreach program in Harlem aimed at a more personal approach to the problem.
It’s not exactly the NYPD experience Officer Kelly Habekost anticipated.
“Absolutely not,” she exclaimed. “I wanted to go to the crime lab, wanted to be CSI.”
Instead, she’s been through CIT — Crisis Intervention Training — to deal with the homeless in Harlem.
“It trained me on how to approach them,” she said. “Maybe one person you would approach in a friendly manner, whereas another one you might have to be a little more serious.”
Habekost works with the 125th Street Task Force — formed in late 2015 after outrage over the K-2 synthetic marijuana crisis rampaged among the homeless uptown.
One homeless woman told CBS2 at the time that “it’s the new heroin, the new crack, and it’s disgusting!”
The task force has more or less eliminated the open use of K-2 along 125th Street. In addition, it’s had success with the area homeless to get them services including substance abuse counseling and shelter.
Lt. Larry Donnelly from the task force tells CBS2 that not everything is a criminal situation.
“They can be referred for services and that can be effective also,” he said.
Bob Mascali is a former Deputy Commissioner for Homeless Services. He tells CBS2 there should be more units like the task force simply because they work.
“I think they finally realized the magnitude of the problem,” he said. “They were trying to dismiss it at the beginning, not it has hit them straight in the face and there’s no getting around it.”
Habekost says many folks on the street have come to trust her. Earlier this month, she recovered a firearm in a trash can thanks to a tip from a homeless person on Park Avenue.
For Habekost and the rest of the 125th Street Task Force, the work on the beat goes on.