With the arrival of more homeless families into the Pan Am Homeless Shelter, local Asian businesses are beginning to have to deal with the headaches of petty theft. Restaurants are trying to avoid being victims of “free meals” by the homeless.
Community Board members, elected officials and police urge business owners and residents to report all crimes immediately. The manager of Fortune Supermarket (located on Queens Blvd and one block away from the Pan Am homeless shelter), Mr. Xia, indicated that there has not been theft in big money items, only petty theft.
“Last week, two men came into the supermarket with backpacks, took a bag of chocolate and ran,” said Mr. Yang, an employee of the market. He observed that these thieves were from the Pan Am Homeless Shelter. Another employee revealed that some children of homeless families, who come to the supermarket, have pilfering habits. “They often wait for their parents to finish paying at the cash register then pickup yogurts, candies and other snacks and leave.”
Petty theft and pilfering usually occur in the evening, when the supermarket is understaffed and especially at the front entrance where there is only one cashier. The cashier is not allowed to leave the register and thus unable to recover the stolen items. “It's pointless to call the police on such a small matter! And even if they come, what can the police do?” said an employee. The supermarket staff believes that stealing a little today and a little tomorrow might just be a nuisance now, but it will eventually lead to bigger problems in the future.
Ping's Restaurant, located a few blocks away from the Pan Am Homeless Shelter, is vigilant about not becoming a victim of “Theft of Service” (again).
“On Sunday, a homeless person came in, had a meal and discovered he wasn’t able to pay,” said the restaurant manager, Mr. Chen. The waitstaff are instructed not to do business with potential rogue customers who do not intend to pay. As for takeout customers, they must pay first before receiving their food.
Mr. Chen, another employee from Fortune Supermarket, indicated that after the homeless moved in, there have been an increase in police patrols from the 110 precinct. The police go door-to-door to teach the residents how to prevent theft and when to call the police. “For example, don’t get into a verbal confrontation with the homeless, avoid it as much as you can.”
Community Board 4 member, Minwen Yang, said, “Even though these petty thefts are minor disturbances, we must report them. If we don’t, then the police will not have accurate data to prove the problems caused by the homeless shelter.” She also revealed that the next protest will likely be at City Hall.
The Commanding Officer of the 110 Precinct, Deputy Inspector Leyson, indicated that there had previously been a downward trend in crimes within a 2000 feet radius of the Pan Am Homeless Shelter. He hopes that residents and businesses actively report suspicious activities so that the police can be deployed in a meaningful manner. He also asked everyone to pay close attention.
State Senator Stavisky expressed that during the public hearing she proposed increased police patrols, and as Inspector Leyson communicated, encourages everyone to actively report any suspicious events.