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New Homeless Encampment Rankles Neighbors In Washington Square Park

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A homeless village has appeared in Greenwich Village, with a group now camping overnight in tourist- and student-filled Washington Square Park.

As CBS2's Dave Carlin reported, the homeless moved to Washington Square Park from Union Square, and some neighbors are less than thrilled.

"Maybe they're angry -- anything can happen if they want to take it out on you," said Ilsa Gilbert.

Gilbert on Wednesday was demanding that the city do something about the growing Washington Square Park homeless encampment. She wondered why neither enforcement nor outreach has been anywhere to be found.

Others want police to compel the homeless group to move along.

"It just seems to be getting a little bit worse," one woman said.

But some of the homeless themselves said they have no plans to leave.

In exclusive smartphone video, NYPD officers are shown arriving around 9 a.m. and telling the homeless who camped here together overnight that they cannot sleep on the lawn. One homeless man is seen protesting that the NYPD should not be enforcing issues in the park.

The homeless encampment residents are then seen moving their belongings to the edge of narrow walkway. But they were not forced out.

"I'm not going to leave unless I'm in a police car," said one man named Joe.

Joe is a homeless artist from Boston. A decade ago, he says he was doing well as a drywall installer and tattoo artist, but after a friend died, he said he went into a deep depression and spiraled into homelessness. Joe said he doesn't speak to his parents much.

He says for about eight months, he and his friends lived about 10 blocks north in Union Square. But he said it was holiday activity that squeezed them out.

Union Square has been packed lately with the tents for a farmers' market and a holiday market -- with the little shops prompting some of the homeless to pack up and move.

"I can see the concern on the part of the residents," said former Department of Homeless Services Deputy Commissioner Robert Mascali.

Mascali said as the encampment grows at Washington Square Park, police can and should break it up.

"It's blocking access. There's a public health issue depending on what's going on there," Mascali said.

He said the public needs to get more involved by calling 311 and reporting problems, and keep up the pressure on police and outreach agencies to get action.

The police activity at Washington Square Park on Wednesday came one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the departure of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.

The mayor on has turned over homeless services duties to Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steve Banks.

"We want to really focus on how to bring people in off the streets; making sure that we're as effective and as timely and as quickly as possible moving people out of shelters," Banks said.

Over the next 90 days, Banks said he will review all aspects of the city's homeless policy, 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported.

"It's a problem that's built up over many years – didn't happen overnight – and it's going to take some time to address it.

Nearly 58,000 people are currently living in city shelters – almost half of them children.

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