Crusties enrage residents, merchants on E.V. blast block

Crusty punks crashed out on Second Ave. near E. Seventh St., outside the vacant lot where three buildings were destroyed in the gas explosion in 2015. Photo by Maryann Marlowe

BY MARY REINHOLZ | Crusty punks, those storied panhandling travelers with pets and musical instruments, have reappeared in the East Village in greater numbers this fall season, stirring fear and loathing among some residents and business owners on Second Ave., according to several locals. They claim the police are doing little to address the problems posed by the homeless, mostly white vagabonds, which include alleged street crimes and quality-of-life offenses, like public urination outside the site of the 2015 gas explosion.

“They’re attracting all kinds of displaced people — I’ve never seen so many before,” said Maryann Marlowe, owner of Enz’s retro fashion boutique, at 125 Second Ave., which is adjacent to the vacant, rubble-strewn lot on Second Ave. and E. Seventh St. “Every day there are new ones.

“I’ve come to feel they own Second Ave. and it’s like we don’t belong,” she told The Villager. “Some have been here for 10 years. I’ve lived in the East Village for years and it’s never escalated to this point. It’s like a recurrence of Tent City, with sometimes 10 or 15 of them outside,” she said, referring to the homeless encampment in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s.

“They have trays of food and mattresses and pillows out on Second Ave. They all have cell phones and say they make $50 a day panhandling. They’re here because they know the police will do nothing. Their hands are tied,” she said of the police.

Marlowe, who wants the blast site “supervised and cleaned every day,” called police on Saturday after she saw an older man among the younger crusties urinating in front of her tiny shop while a customer was there. She has since reached out to various public officials, ranging from Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, and state Senator Brad Hoylman, to city agencies, like the Department of Health. She contacted the latter agency after, she said, the crusties were given “20 pounds of popcorn, which they threw all over the street,” and previously let loose pet rats at the blast site, “which have multiplied.”

Moises Locon, left, and Nicholas Figueroa had their whole lives ahead of them when they were killed by the explosion caused by the alleged illegal gas-siphoning hook-up. (Photo by Patrick J. Eves)

Late last month, Marlowe attended a Ninth Precinct Community Council meeting at the E. Fifth St. police stationhouse, where she and her neighbors complained about “homeless” invaders to Captain John L. O’Connell, the new commanding officer. Two of them claimed the crusties were prone to violence.

“There’s a colony of homeless between St. Mark’s Place and Seventh St. and they’re a public danger,” said an older woman who called herself Yvonne. “There was a stabbing in the beginning of August,” she continued. “One of them stabbed another one. Yesterday, they had a big fight. One or two of them have a car. They use the cell phone [chargers] so much. It might be good to get rid of the cell phone [chargers],” Yvonne suggested to O’Connell, referring to the city’s WiFi kiosks. “It’s a problem we want gone. There’s public urination.”

She also claimed that some of the crusties’ pets were in danger of abuse by their owners.

O’Connell, 44, an immense Irish-American third-generation cop, whose mother once served as a uniformed police officer in the Ninth, listened intently to Yvonne before answering.

“Certainly, it’s an issue that I’ve heard about,” he told her. “I’ve gone out there. We are doing a lot of things about it. Sergeant Bailey can go into more specifics about what we’re doing” after the meeting, he said, referring to Sergeant Leslie Bailey, who heads the Ninth’s Neighborhood Coordination Officers or N.C.O.’s.

At one point in the meeting, Bailey said, “We can’t arrest people just because they’re hanging out.”

C.B. 3 District Manager Stetzer offered a similar assessment when contacted by The Villager on Friday.

“People are allowed by law to be on the street,” she said in an e-mail. “If they are doing something criminal, that is not allowed. However, police need to see evidence.” Stetzer, who works with all of the involved agencies, said she was “not aware of any violence in the area from this population.”

This reporter spoke to three apparent crusties over the weekend, including a 24-year-old goateed man named Jagger Thompson, who has traveled around the country, and boasted of once making “suicide leaps” onto freight trains going 60 miles per hour. He said he now has cancer and is staying with a friend in New York. Thompson displayed a food-stamp card while stroking a pet kitten as he sat with his girlfriend on a Third Ave. sidewalk around the corner from St. Mark’s Place.

Kaitlin, a 24-year-old aspiring musician originally from Nashville, Tennessee, sat on a sidewalk next to a cell-phone charger not far from Gem Spa on Second Ave. at St. Mark’s Place. In front of her was a plate with coins and a small sign reading, “Anything helps.”

Kaitlin, who has been in New York for several years, leaving and then returning, said she sleeps “right now on the street and different places.” She hugged a battered case containing her fiddle. “I had another one but it was stolen,” she said.

She was joined on the sidewalk by a bearded self-described crusty, apparently over 30, who identified himself as LeRoy Jenkins. He was smoking a cigarette from a $20 carton he got on the cheap from an Indian reservation in Suffolk County.

“I’m here to be with my [street] family,” he said, claiming he had recently reconciled with his parents and now sometimes stays with them on Long Island while working as a contractor.

Jenkins bristled and started shouting when told by this reporter that some people in the East Village are afraid of crusties, stating that he and his fellow travelers don’t “give a f—” about what other people think.

Asked why he was so upset, Kaitlin said softly, “Some people think we’re not even human.”

Indeed, one attendee at the aforementioned precinct council meeting called crusties “animals” several times during an interview with The Villager. He asked to be identified by the pseudonym of Stephen Lipski — because he is terrified of them, claiming he’s been “cursed out, shouted at and insulted by them every day.”

Kaitlin, left, ensuring that her eyes stayed open for the photo, with Wing the Nut, photographed at E. Seventh St. and Second Ave. for a Villager article three years ago after a couple of the crusties’ pit bulls had been attacking local residents’ dogs — and the residents themselves while trying to defend their dogs. Famed punk-rock photographer Robert Bayley’s pug Sidney was attacked on St. Mark’s Place and later died of his injuries. One local man’s arm was very seriously bitten, causing nerve damage. Wing the Nut admitted that some of their animals, rescued from dogfighting rings, were “not in the best condition” when the crusties got them. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

He told O’Connell, “I see their hypodermic needles; I see their [hidden] bottles. I see them defecating between cars on E. Seventh St. Put in overhead lights!” he pleaded.

The 64-year-old retiree, who lives in a rent-stabilized Second Ave. apartment, told The Villager that the crusties are in the East Village “by choice because rich people from Tribeca give them money. I’ve seen one perform fellatio in a car, presumably for pay,” he said. “I’ve reported them to the police and the police give me lessons on their rights. They say, if they don’t see a crime, it’s not illegal.”

An East Village local who identified herself as Sylvia Klein said problems with the homeless have been an issue in the East Village for years. She said multiple people and city agencies were involved in addressing the problem, including the Department of Sanitation. As for dogs allegedly abused by crusties, she observed, “We have the ASPCA. If the dogs attack someone, the ASPCA can come and take the dogs the same day.” She told the police, “The Department of Homeless [Services] should be helping you guys, so you can understand the layers of the problem.”

Another woman at the meeting spoke of a different type of homeless sleeping in the neighborhoods of Alphabet City, with drug dealers allegedly operating in community gardens on E. Fourth and Fifth Sts.

“We know there is drug dealing going on the Fifth St. side of the community garden and going into E. Fourth St. There are people there who are actually the runners. We really need some help” from the police, she said.

A Noho resident who arrived alone at the meeting told O’Connell about a “big problem with people selling drugs in front of the building [on Broadway and Bleecker] and hanging out in Wendy’s all day long.” He said he talked to a cop who told him he was looking for a “confidential informant.” The man explained he had come to the council to bring the problem to the Ninth’s “attention” in hopes of getting a “coordinated” police response.

O’Connell touted the Ninth’s N.C.O.’s as a crackerjack team of crime-busters that coordinates with narcotics police and intelligence officers. Earlier in the meeting, he talked about his hopes of improving neighborhood policing and getting cops out of their cars and into direct contact with people in the community.

“We want them to get out [on the street] and to be more social, more proactive,” he said. “We want them walking out into the community. That’s something I’m passionate about.”

Shortly before the council meeting ended, the new top cop in the Ninth told locals, “The door is always open. People should feel comfortable walking into a stationhouse.”

Meanwhile, Enz’s owner Marlowe hopes the police will help her “fix” the problem with the homeless crusties and their followers, noting that the hot-button issue has brought people “to a point of rage and in-house fighting in the neighborhood, with some saying that this wouldn’t be happening if [former Mayor] Giuliani was here. The liberals hate Giuliani, so this is causing unrest.”

Asked if police returned her e-mails about the issue, Marlowe noted that an officer from community affairs sent her an e-mail, stating, “We’re working on it.”

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