Embattled homeless outreach group abandons Penn Station

The pricey homeless outreach nonprofit busted by the state comptroller last year for snoozing on the job has all but given up on Penn Station, The Post has learned.

Some three-dozen vagrants were spotted milling around outside the Bowery Residents Committee’s shuttered outreach office and throughout the busy transit hub over two days this week — with some literally sleeping on the group’s doorstep and BRC staffers nowhere to be found throughout the entire station.

The group is under contract with the MTA and Amtrak to do outreach at Penn, and the office there is the group’s only base of operations in the sprawling hub.

Meanwhile, the station is descending further into vagrant chaos.

“You see people who are barefoot. People throw ice in here. I’ve seen people literally defecate right here in front of the store,” said Cesar Rodriguez, who manages a Verizon store at the terminal.

“A lot of these people get help, you might not see them for a month, and then they come back right here. If somebody’s out here that smells horrible, customers are gonna walk away.”

Amtrak has a contract with BRC to maintain the homeless outreach office, but the railroad, BRC and the state comptroller’s office could not provide details of the deal.

The MTA has a separate four-year contract with BRC that extends through October 2021. The deal paid the nonprofit $2.1 million in the first year with 2 percent increases every year.

Muzzy Rosenblatt, BRC’s president and CEO, told The Post this week that the Penn Station office was shut “indefinitely” Saturday after the agency received “a very specific threat.”

He would not provide details, but law enforcement sources said a man identified as Eugene Watts was asked to leave the office Saturday and told staffers, “I will leave but I’m going to come back with a gun and shoot you.”

Watts was still at large as of Wednesday.

Rosenblatt says BRC put a sign on the door directing the homeless to an office about eight blocks away on West 25th Street — but claimed vagrants tore down the sign when he was told that The Post did not observe one there on Monday. There was no sign on Wednesday either.

A July 2019 state comptroller’s audit found that the nonprofit was slacking on its mission.

The audit, which examined the Amtrak- and MTA-funded outreach programs, found that staffers spent just 26 percent of their time doing actual outreach — and too much time in the Penn station office, the audit said.

During visits to the office in 2018, state auditors said “a wheelchair-bound apparent homeless individual attempted to access the outreach office but left after receiving no response from BRC staff inside.”

“Three additional apparent homeless people came to the office door during the ‘office closed’ time, two of whom were led away by Amtrak police officers,” the audit said.

Rosenblatt, who spoke to The Post Monday but did reply to subsequent requests for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday, said last weekend’s threat was taken seriously because the office is “a dead end.”

“Being in that office, there’s no second way out,” he said.

He said BRC faces difficult challenges in carrying out its mission at the terminal.

“Homelessness is challenging for the person experiencing it,” he said. “It’s challenging for those of us trying to help people. It’s challenging for the people who are using Penn Station to travel and shop.”

However, the terminal’s homeless population said BRC continues to drop the ball.

“They’ve done nothing for me,” Andre Watkins, one of the hub’s homeless, said Monday. “I don’t even see them. I go to the office and tell them that they’re not taking care of us.”

“If you’re doing something that they don’t like, they’ll yell at you,” he said. “They’ll treat us like little kids.”

Scott Miller, who has been homeless for several years, says he’s at Penn Station every day and has had the same frustrations with the BRC staff.

“It seems like when you ask questions, it’s just a pass-the-buck attitude,” Miller said. “They don’t give you the right answers sometimes. You have to have so many contacts with them.”

Amtrak declined to comment and the MTA did not immediately respond.

Additional reporting by Larry Celona and David Meyer

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