Over the years the Mineola American has covered many stories about the homeless situation at the Mineola train station. A recent incident with a homeless man camping out under the Mineola Boulevard overpass bridge with his very own personal couch is just another example of what village officials have to deal with.
Last week, the Mineola Department of Public Works (DPW) headed down to the train station and erected a temporary fence to close off the area from other possible vagrants once the couch was removed.
“The individuals in the area of the train station have created a health and safety issue,” said Mayor Scott Strauss. “They have been known to harass and intimidate passersby and aggressively ask for money. Several months ago, we put a local law on the books making it illegal to ‘aggressively panhandle’ in Mineola. This has given the police department another tool to work with as the ‘loitering laws’ seem to have been watered down and are not very useful in this situation.”
According to Strauss, the Nassau County Police Department, along with the village’s problem-oriented policing (POP) officers Jesse Cooper and Mike Costanzo, have been very responsive to the issue and were on scene when the village’s DPW cleaned the area and erected the fence.
“This one individual has been arrested twice since May,” said Strauss. “Once for menacing and another for allegedly choking someone. I know he has been taken away prior to that, I just don’t remember what they were for. Nassau County’s Homeless Intervention unit has been extremely helpful as well. In speaking with them, they are very informed as to the issues we face and have been trying to convince these individuals to take them up on their offers of assistance for many months.”
In May 2019, the Nassau County Police Department’s Third Precinct held a community forum where the issue of homelessness was a prevalent topic.
According to Cooper, the main reason why homelessness is an issue at the train station is because the homeless are doing too well in the area.
“They put their hand out and, within minutes, they get what they need,” explained Cooper. “What they’ve done in other communities, is that they’ve actually put up signs that say do not donate to the homeless, [but] donate to this organization or this charitable organization.”
The county’s Homeless Intervention unit was recently successful in getting the homeless man to finally agree to accept an offer of a place to live where an appointment was scheduled at Nassau County’s Social Services Department.
“The individual was even given a metro ticket for the bus to get there,” said Strauss. “Concerned he wouldn’t show, officers Cooper and Costanzo made sure he appeared so he wouldn’t miss this opportunity to get himself back on his feet and lead a productive life. Unfortunately, there are a few others in the area that need this same guidance and I am confident that working with these same agencies we will be able to encourage them to accept the generous offers of assistance as well.”
According to one village resident James, who did not wish to have his last name published, said that the man is at the train station all the time during the warmer months for the last three years.
“He’s harmless for the most part, although I have seen him get belligerent when he had been drinking,” said James. “He’s told me about his ex-wife and how she doesn’t let him see his kids. I’ve offered him help with his drinking, but he refused. He sleeps next to the fence on the ground [now].”
Strauss has also recently reached out to County Executive Laura Curran and Legislator Richard Nicolello, who have been very supportive by providing guidance and assistance to the situation.
“I’ll continue to work with Mayor Strauss in any way that I can to find a long term solution to this problem,” said Nicolello. “Residents and commuters must be able to use the area of the train station in a safe and secure manner. At the same time, the county will continue its efforts to get resources to individuals in need. I want to thank the mayor for his continued leadership on behalf of the residents of Mineola and for swiftly addressing their concerns.”