Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

Still searching for more answers on Christopher St.

By Albert Amateau

Just eight weeks after the beginning of the Christopher St. initiative, intended to address problems concerning crowds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers from all over the city who spend their nights on the Christopher St. Pier, West Village residents said last week that they were still beset by noisy, obscene and at times menacing behavior.

But the city-sponsored plan, which involves increased policing by the Sixth Precinct along with outreach to the youth by The Door, a highly regarded service agency, received some credit at an Oct. 24 meeting for improving the situation.

Nevertheless, the forum held by the Community Board 2 Christopher St. Task Force began in harmony but ended in verbal clashes between residents and members of FIERCE!, an advocacy group comprised of L.G.B.T. youth.

FIERCE! members and their friends insisted that the conflict between the largely older and white residents and the largely minority kids was based on class, property and race, a view that outraged residents, who said they were struggling with threatening and lawless behavior from crowds that made sleep impossible.

“It's not a political issue. It's an issue of crime and indecent behavior,” said one resident.

Dave Poster, a founder of the Christopher St. Patrol, a neighborhood anticrime group, said he had a lot of respect for The Door and that the program had “a good beginning.” But, he declared, “The prostitution situation is horrendous and has not gotten better.” He remarked that 70 percent of prostitutes arrested in the precinct are recidivists, and he demanded mandatory jail sentences to keep hookers off the streets. The statement received a burst of applause.

Elaine Goldman, a leader of the Christopher St. Block Association, said Pier 45 off Christopher St., during the warm months, is dangerously overcrowded on weekend nights until the 1 a.m. curfew, and called on the Hudson River Park Trust, which converted the pier into part of the riverfront park, to do something about crowd control. Goldman also urged the Trust to direct people at curfew time to leave the park at 14th St. instead of Christopher St. She suggested that crowds of subway-bound youth would cause less trouble on 14th St. in the Meat Market than on Christopher St.

However, Noreen Doyle, the Trust's vice president, said that while Community Board 2 had discussed a 14th St. exit, the board never passed a resolution recommending an alternative to the Christopher St. exit. Regarding 14th St., Doyle said the Trust would also have to contend with Community Board 4, whose Chelsea district begins at 14th St. Doyle also said that the 14th St. exit proposal was impractical and that Pier 45 was not overcrowded.

Speaking for FIERCE! (Fabulous Independent Radicals for Community Empowerment), Rikki Mananzala said he was pleased that the city had resisted the demand by residents for an 11 p.m. park curfew. Mananzala also said he doubted that crime had increased on Christopher St. any more than in other parts of the Village, and he called for an eventual reduction of the police on the street.

“We're glad the proposal to push L.G.B.T. youth out of the West Village has been dropped,” Mananzala said.

“I'm not trying to push you out,” declared Bob Orzo, a West Village resident and owner of the Hudson Bagels store just off Christopher St. “But disorderly conduct is a major problem; vomit and human excrement in our doorways are a problem. I just want you to have some respect.”

Henry Siedel, a resident of a condo at Bethune and Greenwich Sts., said, “The pimps and prostitutes are out of control, yelling at each other and their customers until 7:30 in the morning.”

Moreover, gay and lesbian residents declared that they too are deprived of sleep and are offended by antisocial behavior.

The Christopher St. initiative, which began Sept. 1, was introduced in August by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who had obtained a $160,000 grant for the Department of Youth and Community Development to fund The Door's outreach program to youth on Christopher St.

Kate Seely-Kirk, Quinn's Village liaison, told the Oct. 24 forum that while Christopher St. and the pier have been the historical safe space for L.G.B.T. youth, residents need to be able to sleep.

“This is definitely a work in progress,” Kirk said, acknowledging State Senator Tom Duane's presence at the forum and noting that Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler worked on the plan.

Deputy Inspector Theresa Shortell, Sixth Precinct commanding officer, told the forum that the Village has 24 new officers and many of them are assigned to patrol Christopher St. during the troublesome hours. In addition, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has assigned a special squad of three officers to Christopher St. to work on crime prevention, Shortell said.

Michael Zisser, The Door's executive director, said the organization sends three or four outreach counselors to the pier between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. The counselors for the past three weeks have been escorting young and vulnerable kids from the pier to the subway and paying for their rides. On Thursdays and Fridays The Door's school building on Broome St. between Varick St. and Sixth Ave. stays open until 10 p.m., two hours later than usual, to serve the pier kids.

But critics noted that the trouble starts on Christopher St. at 2 a.m., an hour after the pier closes, when hordes of youth as well as older people who victimize them move east on Christopher St. to the subways.

The Door's outreach will continue until the cold weather keeps the youth away from Christopher St. and will resume in the spring and run until the end of August, when the agency will assess the program, Zisser said.

“We'll have standards and we'll tell you what we've accomplished and we'll tell you if we didn't accomplish anything,” he said.


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