As Fresh Creek Civic Association President Maria Garrett explained at the group’s virtual meeting on Saturday afternoon, March 25th, there doesn’t always need to be a guest speaker, as sometimes the most productive meetings are the result of neighbors just getting together to share what they see and hear.
Her sentiment was spot on, when one local resident reported a distressing observation – that he had seen homeless persons sleeping on the dugout benches at Canarsie Park all winter long, and that he had seen them that very afternoon, lying there in the frigid, pouring rain. He said that he had also observed an actual homeless encampment just off the trails, near a small retention pond, complete with tents and all. While it is no secret that New York City is experiencing an unprecedented homeless crisis, it is still terribly shocking and sad to see such things happening in what is practically your own backyard.
Canarsie residents are not alone, of course, as residents of Bergen Beach and Gerritsen Beach have reported similar encampments in their wooded areas. Aside from the obvious concern residents have expressed for the well-being of the homeless, they also fear that bonfires lit for cooking and warmth may spread and become full-blown brush fires. In May 2022, a homeless man perished when a bonfire engulfed an encampment in Gerritsen Beach. While the origins have yet to be determined, two other massive brush fires have occurred in the same vicinity, one in February and another in March, which required several hours of firefighting and a combination of ground, air and marine support to get under control. While there were no reported injuries, such fires clearly put the lives of first responders at unnecessary risk.
The group received the same advice from all those representing local elected officials at the meeting – that the best way to handle the situation would be to call 311 and make a report so that help would be dispatched to those in need. They said that despite the best, joint efforts of the NYPD and the Department of Homeless Services to get the homeless into shelters where they can receive services, many refuse and cannot be compelled to go. Garrett was confident that the issue could be resolved expediently and assured the group they would work together to figure it out.
On a far more positive note, Garrett spoke passionately about her desire to keep the neighborhood streets “clean and green,” sharing information about a variety of nature-minded philanthropic efforts she has been undertaking and participating in hearings and rallies in cooperation with various groups to further advocate for Canarsie. She discussed the tremendous importance of trees, the role they play in filtering pollutants out of our air, their positive impact upon air quality and the way they help regulate heat, as opposed to concrete which only absorbs and exacerbates high temperatures. Garrett informed the group that she is working to obtain funding for Brooklyn parks from the Mayor’s office in hopes that Canarsie will receive the resources it so deserves.
The group will not hold a meeting in April, as members have a number of Earth Day/Spring Cleaning and planting events scheduled that will surely keep them very busy. All are welcome to volunteer on April 20th and April 22nd to clean up East 108th Street, between Avenues J and M, with further details to follow.