Since April, Whitney Avenue, alongside a shopping center in Elmhurst, Queens, has become home for a group of people experiencing homelessness.
The side street where many businesses receive deliveries and customers park has now turned into a makeshift shelter.“Originally, they had around 15 to 20 people, now they expanded to 60, 70 people,” said Andy Chen, the owner of Home & Home Pharmacy, a local business.
Chen, along with many neighbors, tell NY1 they have been reporting this encampment to the city for months and nothing has been done.
He said business is tough enough because of the pandemic, and they don’t need anything else driving customers away.
“I understand it is a difficult time for everybody else, but look at us as residents and business owners. Here, at the end of the day, we are the ones suffering,"said Chen.
Earlier in the week, the mayor promised the city would do “whatever it takes” to break up such encampments, but Elmhurst business owners said they have seen none of that enforcement.
“We cannot do anything. We call and nobody can help us. We want to survive. Right now, not too much business. That is why we need the help," said Yokehong Ooi, the manager at Pulau Pinang, a local restaurant.
One employee said a local nonprofit has been coming three times a day and providing water and food for the unsheltered individuals, and even dropped off tents to provide shade and covering during rain.
“There are toilets in the back. They don’t want to leave. There is more and more coming,” added Phuiman Lo, a waitress at Pulau Pinang.
They say they've been fined because of the unintended consequences of the encampment.
“We have gotten tickets because it is too dirty. But it is not our fault. We have garbagemen come everyday, but it is them who throw the garbage to us in the back and we get tickets for them," said Lo.
The Department of Homeless Services said when a condition on the street needs to be addressed their office acts as quickly as they can.
The department stressed that it engages and works to build trust with the unsheltered individuals and offers them services, but added that results take time and do not happen overnight.