Crews cut back trees, brush to expose and clear open-air heroin market on vacant lot

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – We watched crews clear out overgrown trees and brush in a city neighborhood and it exposed an open-air heroin market and tent city. The people in the neighborhood and the city and county knew it was there. They’ve been trying to clear this lot for a year and a half.

But it was exposed to us today. Behind the trees and brush in this vacant lot on Loomis Street is what some people call home. They’re living in tents. And even with heavy equipment cutting down and plowing trees, some didn’t want to leave.

Brean: “What do you think about what you’re seeing here?”
Nina Becoats-Gaines, Loomis Street: “I think it’s a start.”

Nina Becoats-Gaines grew up in this neighborhood. Loomis Street is off Joseph Avenue behind a historic Jewish temple. When we arrived, we saw people shooting up with drugs on the temple steps.

“I drove down this street the other day, my street, and my grandson said ‘grandma look at that!’ He’s 13 years old and I had to explain to him what he was doing so he wouldn’t follow that path. And the guy was shooting a needle in the neck,” Becoats-Gaines said. “That’s not acceptable.”

The vacant lot in the northeast corner of the city, which is the district for city council member Michael Patterson.

Brean: “How do you prevent people coming back here once the crews are gone?”
Michael Patterson, City Council member: “So this is going to be an on-going effort and it’s going to take diligence and attention.”

“Plain and simple, this would not be tolerated in any other community and you know what? Going forward from now on it ain’t tolerated in the northeast either,” Patterson said. “So you don’t have it out in the suburbs. We ain’t going to have it here. We have families who live here, we have children who live here. We don’t want it. We’re not going to have it. I don’t know where you’re going to do your drugs but you’re not going to do them here.”

Brean: “What do you think about what’s going on here today?”
Amy D’Amico, Recovery All Ways: “I think it’s a travesty.”

Amy D’Amico is with a group that tries to help people who are homeless, have mental illness or a drug addiction. She says the people who live here are not dangerous.

RELATED: City is working alongside charities and county services to address homelessness

“And for people who say well they’re going to go buy drugs and the drug dealers are dangerous,” she said. “Well I’ll just say the whole neighborhood has a problem with drugs. The whole problem is the opioid epidemic. The problem is upstream it’s not the end user.”

Amy’s group called Recovery All Ways sued the city in federal court last week over the property. I asked her to talk to two of the holdouts and ask them where they plan to go next.

When she returned she said “they both had the same answer. They don’t know where they’re going to go.”

The city and county are responsible for finding new places to live for the people who were there.

Here is what the county executive’s spokesman shared with me today:

“Our county team(s) work with the City and the agencies and regularly visit the Loomis St. location and other sites frequented by the homeless to offer services. This morning was far from our first visit, we are there often.

The city asked for — and we have given our assistance to connect those who were camping at the Loomis St. site with services, shelter and more as city teams cleaned the area. This morning, members of the county FIT, IMPACT and DHS team arrived at the Loomis St. location at 8:00, where they encountered six individuals, the team engaged with all of them offering services. 

Most declined our offer and some wanted to contemplate a bit longer and asked that members of our team follow up with them tomorrow, which we will do.

Please know that county works with our partners to actively visit encampments such as Loomis Street, to interact with the homeless and offer support and services. We cannot make people accept our help.

No one entity will solve this issue individually. It takes partnership and collaboration. We feel with partners like the City of Rochester, and a host of community advocates and services providers, it will help move the needle in addressing addiction and related issues countywide.”