Volume 76, Number 12 | August 9 - 15, 2006

Christopher gets cops and outreach for gay youth

By Albert Amateau

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn this week announced a city-funded pilot program to solve the conflicts between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who hang out on the Christopher St. Pier and West Village residents and merchants.

The program combines outreach by The Door, a well-regarded youth service organization, and increased police patrols in the Christopher St. neighborhood during the late night and early morning hours when L.G.B.T. youth from all over the city meet on the Village waterfront.

“We’ve been fighting for nearly 16 years to get to this point, and I’m very positive about it,” said Elaine Goldman, a member of the Christopher St. Patrol, a volunteer anticrime organization, and co-leader of the Christopher St. Residents and Merchants Association. “I’ve always heard wonderful things about The Door and we’re thrilled that they are doing the program,” Goldman said.

Pier 45, derelict until three years ago when it was transformed into a prominent feature of Hudson River Park, has for decades attracted gay, lesbian and transgender youth, many of them homeless. In recent years, the majority of the youth have been black and Hispanic.

Residents have long complained that the often-antisocial crowds have destroyed the quality of life in the neighborhood, while FIERCE, a group representing L.G.B.T. youth, has asserted their right to be on the pier and has called for social services, which the new program appears to be offering.

Funded by a $157,500 grant from the Department of Youth and Community Development, the seven-month social service program will start Sept. 1, run through November and, after a winter break, pick up again in March and run through the end of June when the program will be evaluated for further funding.

Quinn on Tuesday said the program was intended to make Christopher St. “safe for the residents and safe for the kids.” The Manhattan South Task Force, a Police Department unit that responds to special situations in Manhattan south of 59th St., will also be involved on Christopher St., Quinn said.

The Door, an affiliate of the Educational Alliance, will post an outreach worker on Pier 45 for a total of 30 hours a week, from midnight to 2 a.m., when the pier closes. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, The Door’s two locations, at 555 Broome St. and 121 Sixth Ave. will remain open until 10 p.m. to offer crisis counseling and referrals on employment, education and other entitlements.

An increased police patrol from the Sixth Precinct began about three weeks ago after the precinct received eight rookies recently graduated from the Police Academy.

“We’ve had more police on the weekend and just their presence in uniform has made a difference,” said David Poster, a leader of the volunteer Christopher St. Patrol, which has been responding to neighborhood complaints about noisy, antisocial and sometimes violent crowds.

“It’ll take a while to see how all this will work out, but The Door is considered the best outreach organization in the area, so I’m glad they’re involved,” Poster said.

Bob Orzo, a co-leader of the Christopher St. Residents and Merchants Association and owner of Hudson Bagels on Hudson and Christopher Sts., said the increased police patrols of the past three weeks have made “a noticeable improvement” in the quality of life. “We just want the kids to behave,” he said.

Rikki Mananzala, a spokesperson for FIERCE, said the L.G.B.T. group has worked with The Door and welcomes the service organization’s participation in the pilot program.

“But if people think that The Door’s later opening hours will deter people from going to the pier, it probably won’t,” he added.

Although FIERCE members have complained at public meetings that police harass gay and transgender youth on Christopher St., Mananzala said that he has not heard complaints about the increased police on the street.

But he said he was skeptical about the need for more cops on Christopher St. as opposed to any other location.

Nevertheless, Mananzala said that at recent meetings he found Sixth Precinct police have been more sensitive to L.G.B.T concerns. FIERCE has also tried to tone down its strident, sometimes confrontational, stance.

“We’ve tried to change our approach at meetings,” he said.

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