By: Ariella Haviv
For over 50 years, the Jewish neighborhood in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn has always prided itself on the fact that the residents of this pristine community have joined forces to collectively work on maintaining the safety, security and impressive appearance of the cherished place that they call home.
Recently, the Jewish Voice learned that this sense of community security has been flagrantly violated by the presence of enigmatic vehicles that are arbitrarily parked on the streets. Not only are these vehicles a loathsome eyesore in an aesthetic sense but apparently their presence has raised health related concerns as they attract an assortment of vagrants.
The investigative team of reporters that were dispatched by the Jewish Voice to meticulously research this jarring situation have revealed that such vehicles include clothing drop off vans, dilapidated late model recreational vehicles, a variety of trucks, trailers, and non-commercial vehicles that are intentionally decorated as commercial vehicles.
Not only do these vehicles remain on the streets for weeks and months on end in the same parking spots but they often take up two, three or more parking spots.
David Ben Hooren, the publisher of the Jewish Voice has noted that, “in a neighborhood that is so densely populated as ours, having these vehicles in the area that are clearly not owned by residents makes the parking situation even more difficult than it already is.” He queried: “How can people come to synagogue every day, if they cannot find parking? And why are these vehicles parked in areas that are in such close proximity to synagogues, schools and homes? That should be a cause of paramount concern for every person living in this neighborhood.”
Theresa Scavo, the chairwoman of Community Board 15 told the Jewish Voice that this has been an ongoing dilemma and one that demands immediate action. Concerning the clothing drop off vehicles that attract people who attempt to crawl into the vehicle to steal clothing, she mentioned that in the areas in which these vehicles are parked they inevitably attract putrid filth that can lead to a significant increase in vermin.
“I can tell you that I witnessed the disgusting mess outside the home of someone I know. This mess was caused by those congregating around the clothing drop off vehicle. I called the police about one vehicle in particular that was located on Avenue X and they responded quite quickly. The next day, however, these clothing vans were right back on the streets, so the problem has not been resolved” Ms. Scavo said.
She added that she attempted to call the phone number listed on the vehicle but her calls were never returned. Others interviewed by the Jewish Voice reiterated her comments about being unable to reach the person or organizers behind this clothing drop off appeal.
Ms. Scavo said that she believes that these vehicles are merely a “front” for a larger scam in which the clothes that are donated do not end up in the possession of the needy or indigent but are actually sold, in order to make a profit.
While she did not provide concrete evidence to support this claim, the Jewish Voice was able to obtain a cell phone number of a man who allegedly operates these clothing drop off vehicles. When contacted by the Jewish Voice, the man who answered phone identified himself as Yossi but refused to answer any questions about the current status of the vehicles.
David Heskiel, a community activist and an NYPD clergy liaison said that he recently contacted Brooklyn Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s office regarding the vehicle in question. He asked that Mr. Deutsch arrange for the clothing drop off vehicle that had been parked for many months on the northwest corner of Avenue T and Ocean Parkway to be removed. Mr. Heskiel reported that the vehicle in question was indeed removed from that corner parking spot the very next day. “Mr. Deutsch has taken a pro-active role in trying to have these vehicles towed in his district and frankly, this is a borough wide issue and we all need to take a shared responsibility,” he added.
Concerning the proliferation of the recreational vehicles that dot the landscape of the neighborhood, Ms. Scavo said she had contacted the police about a particular RV that was parked for a lengthy duration of time on East 1st Street, after being contacted by concerned residents. When the police arrived and knocked on the door of the RV a man answered who identified himself as an out of state employee of a local contractor who was working on a luxury home on that block. Ms. Scavo told the Jewish Voice that the police asked the man to move the RV as it was located near a school and represented a danger. She said that the man moved the vehicle to a spot on McDonald Avenue.
“The people who park these recreational vehicles and sometimes take up two or more parking spots are essentially migrant workers who are employed by contractors. They need a place to live while they are working on the construction project and I would imagine that the contractors are allowing them to bring these vehicles in for groups of men to live. Many of these vehicles have out of state license plates and some do not have any license plates at all. The bottom line is that this presents not only a parking problem for residents, but the issues of safety and cleanliness are very important as well,” Ms. Scavo said.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mr. Heskiel who said that vehicles with advertising splashed all over the exterior and appeared as commercial vehicles were able to circumvent parking laws by maintaining non-commercial license plates. He said that these vehicles as well as commercial trucks are parked in the same spots for weeks and even months in some cases.
Longtime neighborhood resident and community leader Danny Bergman told the Jewish Voice that the police have problems ticketing some trailers or trucks as they do not have license plates. He added, “Instead of obtaining commercial plates on their trucks, some of these owners get regular plates so they can park overnight, without placing themselves at risk of getting a ticket.” Speaking of the safety concerns of the neighborhood, Mr. Bergman said, “Each day we must be vigilant about who is in our neighborhood and what they are doing here. Our communal obligation is to protect our families, our children and our stable way of life.”
Mr. Ben Hooren opined that “the owners of these vehicles know that their cars or trucks will be safe from theft in this neighborhood, plus the longer they stay, the longer that they get free advertising.”
Asked if law enforcement authorities were contacted about this neighborhood blight, Ben Hooren said that he had repeatedly attempted to contact the local branch of the Shomrim, the volunteer police force comprised on mainly Orthodox Jews. While their objective is to assist the New York City police department in fighting crime at all levels, Ben Hooren said that the response he received from Shomrim spokesman Chaim Moskowitz was less than satisfactory. “I tried to contact Mr. Moskowitz on a number of occasions to establish a contact with him and to learn more about what the Shomrim are actually doing in terms of crime fighting. Each time I reached out to him, he essentially blew me off and said he had no time to talk. What I did get out of him was that the only thing that the Shomrim does do is take on bicycle thefts and car break-ins” he said.
Mr. Heskiel and others in community pointed to the inherent danger that these vehicles, vans and trucks represent. In addition to being a magnet for graffiti artists, a haven for filth to accumulate and for health issues to arise, the issue of safety and the increase in crime remain a priority.
“Anyone can come along and throw a bomb into a truck, or abandoned van. We live in a age in which terrorism is proliferating and what is to stop someone from trying to target this area with deadly attacks, “ Mr. Heskiel said.
Another community member who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “When we see these trucks in the neighborhood for such a long duration of time, we can become desensitized to the danger they could possibly represent. We figure if they have been here so long and nothing has happened then they don’t represent a real threat. The fact is that the complete opposite is true. Anyone at any time can use these trucks as receptacles for destruction and we need to take the proverbial bull by the horns and seek action to stop this frightening phenomenon.”