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Saratoga Springs public housing seniors living in fear, 2 residents say

Monday, June 24, 2013
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— Some senior public housing residents are barring their doors against unsavory characters and fear retribution if they call the police, said two public housing residents who represent their neighbors.

“We have seniors barricading their doors,” Johanna Dushlek said of people who live in Stonequist Apartments and Jefferson and Vanderbilt terraces, Saratoga Springs’ public housing properties.

Dushlek, vice chairwoman of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, said at a commissioners meeting last week that she knows of one person who sleeps with a butcher knife next to the bed.

She is a resident of Stonequist Apartments on South Federal Street and regularly visits Jefferson and Vanderbilt terraces. One day recently at the Jefferson Street projects, Dushlek was the target of an implied threat when a man pulled out a gun and clicked off the safety as she walked by, she said.

“They’re doing it to intimidate people,” Dushlek said. “It’s not the people in the terraces that are causing the problems. It’s the outside people coming in from Troy, Schenectady” and other areas.

Olivine Westcott, who is also a resident commissioner on the housing authority board, said some Stonequist Apartments residents drink excessively and cause problems but neighbors are afraid to report them.

The seniors feel that police don’t respond quickly enough or take their concerns seriously, she said.

Westcott, Dushlek and some other members of the housing authority board said at last Thursday’s meeting they would like a police officer to come to the public housing units and discuss their concerns.

City police spokesman Lt. John Catone on Monday said the residents had not contacted him, but that police would be willing to have a meeting.

“I feel badly that they feel that way, but it’s not because we’re telling them no,” he said of the residents’ contention that police are unresponsive.

“We respond as quickly as we would anywhere else,” he said.

However, officers have to prioritize their response, sending units out first to more critical situations and afterward to more minor complaints.

The city used to have a full-time police officer stationed at Jefferson Terrace, but returned that officer to regular patrol more than a year ago because of staffing cuts in the police force, Catone said.

He doesn’t envision the department being able to devote a full-time person to public housing anytime soon. But when staffing allows, city police do assign an officer to cover public housing on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, he said.

Michael Chowske, who retired as captain earlier this year, used to meet with residents frequently, Catone said. Catone and other supervisors at the police station also have offered over the years to be available to residents.

“I have never been asked to go,” Catone said.

Part of the problem seems to be that the seniors don’t talk about their fears, said Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Commissioner Lou Schneider, who also serves on the mayor’s senior citizen advisory committee.

No one from the public housing units has brought safety complaints to the mayor’s committee, Schneider said.

“I haven’t heard any of these problems that we’ve had, because people are not coming to us,” he said. “They may be afraid to vent their opinions to the police and even to other people in the senior citizens committee because of possible retaliation.”

Catone said he’s never heard of a senior at the public housing units becoming a victim of retaliation after talking to the police.

“I am not aware in my almost 27 years here where people have called only to be threatened by others,” he said. “We also don’t go to a location and say, ‘Your neighbor … called us up to complain.’ ”

 
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