Civic Center parking garage safety concerns continue

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Monroe County continues to try to deal with a contingent of men and women who are living in a downtown parking garage as those who park there say some of the homeless people have become increasingly aggressive.

The Civic Center parking garage is located on Fitzhugh Street in Rochester, next to the Monroe County Hall of Justice, not far from the Blue Cross Arena. Multiple warnings have been sent this week to employees who park there urging them to walk in pairs to their cars and use extra caution.

An email was sent on behalf of Acting Administrative Judge Bill Taylor and District Executive Ron Pawelczak to employees at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday that reads, “We write to remind everyone of the importance of being aware of your surroundings while in the parking garage. Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts that will continue, issues created by the homeless in the Civic Center parking garage have continued and throughout the day many homeless and other individuals are in the garage who have no purpose in being there. We were informed this morning by an employee that last night someone tried to enter her vehicle while she was inside it. Fortunately, because she was alert and aware of her surroundings, her door was locked when she got in and she was able to drive away safely. Also, while it did not occur during our regular business hours and did not involve any of our employees or court users, you should also be aware that a homeless person was stabbed by unknown assailants in the parking garage last Wednesday at approximately 4 AM. We do not want to alarm you with this information, but forewarned is forearmed, and we want you to be safe. Until this situation in the garage is rectified by the County and MAPCO, we recommend that you continue to be aware of your surroundings, walk with others, watch out for each other and take other precautions.”

Rochester Police are currently investigating the stabbing that happened inside the garage.

In a statement to News10NBC, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said, “many employees at the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office pay over $100 a month to park in the Civic Center Garage. Over the past several months, I have become increasingly concerned for the safety of my employees, employees of the Hall of Justice, the residents of surrounding buildings, and the citizens who park there for jury duty and jury selection. It is imperative to ensure the safety of everyone who parks in the garage, especially those who are doing their civic duty and the dedicated public servants coming to work every day.”

Monroe County owns the garage. Rich Tantalo is the County’s Public Safety Director. He told News10NBC after three recent incidents in the garage, they’ve added security guards and patrols inside.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – How many are there? When are they there and if people want to be escorted to their vehicles is that an option?

Rich Tantalo – Well, certainly I will say we have increased our presence. I wouldn’t want to publicly announce when we are there and where we are and I think folks would understand that but… we have increased our security presence within the Civic Center garage, we have modified the number of personnel, we’ve modified the hours that the security personnel are working. We have additional coverage, we have a rolling patrol within our county security system… and if someone wishes to be escorted to the garage we certainly would accommodate that.

Jennifer Lewke – A lot of people would say a parking garage is not somewhere for homeless people to live, is it possible you would just remove them at some point?

Rich Tantalo – So, that’s an excellent question and that’s part of the strategy that we’ve been involved with. For several months we’ve been working with various community stakeholders, various groups that can help house and place these individuals in some place that’s more adequate for living.

Jennifer Lewke – At what point do you start issuing tickets and removing people for trespassing?

Rich Tantalo – Well, that will be determined as we explore what the next course of action is but as I mentioned earlier we need to have a sustainable plan. We could do that, but then what prevents them from reappearing at the garage because they got an appearance ticket with a court date but they’re back out on the street with nowhere to go?

Person Centered Housing Options (PCHO) is one of the groups trying to help.

“The garage is warm, it feels safe to people, it’s large so in the winter especially this is a place where people go because they don’t have anywhere else that’s this warm where they can stay and just keep out of the elements,” explained Lisa Kuhmann, PCHO’s Homeless Outreach Supervisor.

PCHO workers come at all times of the day and night to try and connect with the homeless, build a rapport and eventually convince them to take help.

“We see them all the time, we talk to them you know, we treat them like they are human beings and I think sometimes it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around that because of the way that they may look or act and again mental health is pretty serious and it’s not something that’s their priority when they’re outside,” Kuhmann said.

Back in March, there were about 30 homeless people living in the garage and now Kuhmann says that number is down to less than a dozen.

“We are working with people, getting them placed into safe housing, into permanent housing,” she said.

For more information on PCHO, click here.