It is a sign of the times.
An Upper West Side church displayed a “No Trespassing” sign on its front porch and a steel chain at its entrance in January, after its front porch became a sanctuary of vagrancy and violence.
The First Baptist Church on the corner of West 79th Street and Broadway has been forced to violate Christianity’s cardinal rule – forgive those who trespass against us – following violent attacks on at least five people and constant attendance during of the past year of homeless men living in squalor on the steps.
“They drink alcohol, they smoke, they eat, they litter, they defecate and they urinate everywhere,” said Dale Brown, president of the West 79th Street Block Association, of the horde of homeless people. .
The stairs are normally used by parishioners to enter Sunday services. Church officials, including Pastor Harry Fujiwara, did not respond to requests for comment.
A spate of bloody violence has unfolded around the corner from the church in recent weeks, according to NYPD reports.
Two women were bloodied and hospitalized following what police said was an unprovoked attack on December 2 near the entrance to the church. Darrell Johnson, 28, a homeless man, was charged with assault.
On December 14, three people were attacked on West 79th Street by a man wielding a golf club. Elvin Torres, 36, of Brooklyn was arrested in the attacks.
On New Years Day, police responded to a call for disorderly conduct outside the church, but the suspect fled before officers arrived.
The city saw a sharp rise in crime in January, the NYPD reported, with thefts up 33.1% (1,251 from 940), robberies up 58.1% (4,047 from 2 559) and shootings up 31.6% (100 from 76) from January 2021. The 20th Precinct, which includes the church and much of the Upper West Side, reports that felony and tort assaults stagnated year over year (23), while robbery soared 77.8% (48 from 27), outpacing the citywide increase.
The West Side Rag first reported the appearance of the “No Trespassing” sign at First Baptist Church.
Machete Lopez, one of the homeless people who had camped on the church steps in recent months, blamed the violence on outside agitators. His group, made up mostly of immigrants from Mexico, has since moved a few yards from the Broadway median, which has also drawn neighborhood anger.
“We like it better here,” Lopez said, citing the hot air rising from the subway grates on the median, while admitting the problems on the church steps had become untenable. “We don’t blame them for moving us.”
Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who represents much of the Upper West Side, said the city continues to fail its most vulnerable citizens, despite a $2.1 billion budget for the Department of Homeless Services. -shelter.
“We still aren’t addressing as a city the mental health and addictions issues that are at the root of many of our issues, including homelessness,” said Brewer, the former borough president. of Manhattan.
She said the city recently secured $265 million in public funding to address the opioid crisis and hopes it can be used to address the quality of life issues that have overwhelmed the city.
Until then, First Baptist Church members will enter Sunday services through a side entrance on West 79th Street.
“It’s terrible that the church had to do what it had to do,” said Brown, the leader of the neighborhood association. “But they had to protect their parishioners.”