News10NBC Investigates: Vestibules in low-income senior communities become popular places for unhoused people

Senior communities dealing with unhoused persons

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Low-income senior living communities are becoming popular places for unhoused people looking for warm spots to sleep.  A few weeks ago, News10NBC reported on concerns among residents at Eastman Gardens along East Main Street in Rochester who continue to find unhoused people sleeping in vestibules and community couches in their building. 

Residents of St. Bernard’s Park along Lake Avenue say they’ve been dealing with the same thing and over the weekend, things turned dangerous. 

Around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, Deborah Alexander went outside at her apartment at St. Bernard’s Park to smoke a cigarette. “I walked out the door and there was someone standing at the door; it was a homeless man, I could tell he had a bag right next to him and he was right at the front of the door,” she tells News10NBC. “I couldn’t get by him, so I started talking with him and then everything turned really dark — he started talking about the devil, starting talking about the devil’s sword and all this stuff, and he reached in his pocket and he pulled out a 6-inch knife.”

Alexander says she tried to keep calm. “I just looked at him and I said, ‘Could you please do me a favor and put that back in your pocket?” and he did, by the grace of God.”

The incident shook Alexander, but she’s also worried for other seniors who live in the building.  She says over the last several weeks there has been a number of incidents when unhoused people have been in and around the building, ”they’re going in the laundry room, they’re going down in the basement, people have seen them and these older people are afraid to say anything because they’re afraid of repercussions,” Alexander says.

News10NBC previously reported on similar concerns of nearly a dozen residents at Eastman Gardens.  Since that story aired, those residents have sent News10NBC a number of videos that show, despite promises from management to better secure the building, the vestibules are still a popular spot for those looking for shelter. 

Nick Coulter is the CEO of Person Centered Housing Options (PCHO), a homeless outreach and placement organization.  He says these type of properties are appealing to those trying to survive.

“A lot of the people that are low income that have gotten in there, it might be a family member or a friend or somebody who didn’t get in that they know,” he explains, “and they might let that person in or feel bad because they were in that position last year.”

In many cases, property managers will call PCHO to try and help those who are found on their properties, but “it’s an immense problem that we’re not entirely able to address at the scale that it exists,” Coulter says.

There’s limited space in the shelters and an even more limited number of affordable housing options locally.  Coulter says it used to take one to three months to get an unhoused person into some sort of housing but now, “from finding the person on the street to getting them keys to an apartment, it is taking us about five, six to seven months on average,” he says.

PCHO is working with a number of property management companies locally. “They should be educating themselves on what the Code Blue policies are with shelter placements, how they get PIC (Person in Crisis) teams and FIT (Forensic Intervention) teams out to their residences, how they get outreach involved,” Coulter explains.

In a statement, Sarah Struzzi, the VP of Property Management and Operations for Home Leasing, which manages Eastman Gardens, tells News10NBC, “A critical concern in our community is the issue of homelessness.  In seeking shelter, some individuals trespass onto properties.  Our organization is doing our best to address this issue at Eastman Gardens. Since your report, the number of incidents has been reduced by some of the measures we have taken, especially occurrences of individuals gaining access inside the building. These occurrences are more likely this time of year as the weather gets colder, which is evident in the pictures you received. We continue to assess and improve our efforts, including continued resident engagement as well as education to ensure residents know the importance of keeping the exterior doors closed at all times.  In these instances, we contact 911 immediately to address the issue and also in an attempt to connect these individuals to supportive services. We are also actively working with the Neighborhood Service Center.  Additionally, we are considering the installation of a security camera monitoring service through our existing camera system.  We’ve had success with that service and positive feedback from the properties it has been installed. Eastman Gardens is among a list of communities we are working on expanding this service to. Our organization feels this is less of a public safety or security issue and more of an indication that assistance is imperative for individuals who are facing homelessness. This challenge of homelessness is one of the most significant our community faces.  Home Leasing remains committed to help be part of a solution by creating and providing affordable housing.”

News10NBC reached out to Baldwin Real Estate, which manages St. Bernard’s Park. The Executive Vice President told us he was waiting to hear back from the owners of the property before issuing a statement.