By Dave Carlin

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new effort to combat rising crime and homelessness in Hell’s Kitchen.

Some Hell’s Kitchen merchants and community activists got a quick 30-minute heads up that a quartet of city leaders wanted to hear their public safety concerns in person with no media invited.

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The Ninth Avenue walking and listening tour was with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Commissioner for Homeless Services Steve Banks, NYPD’s Chief of Department Rodney Harrison and Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.

“And it’s really great to have them here to listen and to say it face-to-face,” Robert Guarino, owner of Five Napkin Burger, told CBS2’s Dave Carlin.

So far this year, in the Midtown South precinct, there have been 174 assaults compared to 53 for the same period last year, a 228% increase.

Some in the neighborhood say not helping are dozens of hotels turned into shelters, not only for the homeless, but also housing those with severe mental illness. Then drug dealers also come in from the outside to prey on the vulnerable community.

Neighborhood activists learned from the city leaders a big move out of hotels could begin within weeks.

“They have already prepared residents with a letter that states ‘You will be moving soon,’” said Hell’s Kitchen District Leader and Advocate Marisa Redanty. “We are told they will be going back mostly to congregate settings.”

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And there is a timeline — Redanty says she’s heard it will take 10 weeks once they start.

More encampments vanished Thursday, including a large one under scaffolding on West 51st Street.

“They also took scaffolding down on 42nd Street two days ago. That’s already made a huge difference, so it’s moving a lot of these encampments,” Holly-Anne Devlin said.

“Yes, it is better,” Hell’s Kitchen resident Maria Cruz said.

“The money has to go into helping the homeless,” another resident said.

Harrison had an announcement following the tour: the NYPD is adding 20 police officers to patrol West 38th to West 46th streets between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

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Some of the neighbors say they can now envision a day with more sidewalk homeless encampments gone and homeless residents in shelters or permanent housing with services. It’s progress they say they are seeing now.

Dave Carlin