By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
PROSPECT PARK — The chainsaws were buzzing this week after the city received complaints that some of Prospect Park’s homeless population were using park trees for shelter.
“Occupy Prospect Park was in full swing in early December,” said Anne-Katrin Titze, a park activist and state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator, referring to the rotted-out trees surrounding the lake in the park’s south, where some of the park’s homeless population had sought shelter.
The discovery caused a stir around issues of park sanitation, the availability of homeless services in the area, and the general health of the park’s trees.
“Since the skating rink was demolished early in 2011, there [have been] no toilets lakeside and no drinking water, with the valves shut off for the winter,” Titze later explained. “If the Alliance/Parks [The Prospect Park Alliance and the NYC Parks Department] allow people to live in the park, then they should feed them, provide toilets, garbage collection and potable water.”
Paul Nelson of the Prospect Park Alliance explained how employees run night patrols through the park. “Camping in New York City parks is illegal — we work with the NYPD and the Department of Homeless Services to make sure people get the services they need.”
The Parks Department maintains that the tree removal is part of an ongoing effort aimed at improving the health of Prospect Park’s trees and unrelated to complaints of their use by the park’s homeless population. A spokesperson for the department added that it is bringing in experts from around the city to address issues with the trees surrounding the lake, many of which arose after they sustained damage from Hurricane Irene and the snowstorm last October.
“We’re mostly just cutting down the hazardous and rotted-out trees — there were some problems with falling branches,” said an employee of the Parks Department, whose crew was on break among scattered branches and downed logs. They were in the process of cutting down a half-dozen trees on the south side of the lake.
Upon inspection, a few of the areas that had not yet been cleared did show signs of use. Takeout containers, beer cans and a flashlight were hidden inside a rotted out stump. There was also a rolled-up tarp stored behind one of the trees.
The park’s forester later explained that he had seen some signs of the trees’ use, but said it wasn’t clear whether for storage or for shelter. Either way, he said, the city’s approach to homelessness in parks was wrong.
“It doesn’t really solve the problem,” he said. “Where will they go? They should build more shelters.”