Horrific Chinatown murder shines light on homelessness, drug deals at nearby Sara D. Roosevelt Park

Christina Yuna Lee lived on Chrystie Street, just across the way from Sara D. Roosevelt Park — the linear greenway running through the Lower East Side and Chinatown — that has become, according to local residents, a sanctuary for the homeless and allegedly drug dealers.

Following Lee’s grisly murder inside her apartment on Sunday morning, the human condition at Sara D. Roosevelt Park came under the spotlight once again, as a number of neighbors offered concerns about their safety near the greenspace.

While the COVID-19 pandemic saw Sara D. Roosevelt Park become something of a sanctuary for the unhoused and struggling, a more recent subculture of drug peddling has apparently emerged there. 

Last summer, amNewYork Metro profiled homelessness and poor conditions within the park, calling attention to issues that residents say they’ve been complaining about for quite sometime, to little or no avail.

A large group gathers on Delancey and Chrystie Streets. Photo by Dean Moses

According to local residents, the group is known to the community for allegedly dealing drugs, along with their intimidating nature.

“I am just walking into the park, and I feel like I am getting eyeballed by them. They make me feel uncomfortable—it is just off,” one woman told amNewYork Metro who wished to remain anonymous. “I didn’t see them with drugs, but I saw a lot of money,” the park-goer added.

The group gathers in between Delancey and Chrystie Streets at the edge of the park and appears to have adopted a system that sees two men standing guard while others line up to pay the leader money.

President of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition K. Webster told amNewYork Metro that she is aware of this group.

“Some of the folks in the park sell drugs and the drugs damage the minds of the homeless,” Webster said.

Two men serve as lookouts. Photo by Dean Moses

For Webster, this is especially frustrating since it gives the overall unhoused population in the area such a bad name. As someone who frequents the park, she says many homeless people have been a big help to the community but the influx of drugs, which she believes adds to mental illness, is creating an issue.

“They help us out cleaning the park, but you look at their faces and you know what you see? You see the face and it says nobody is coming for me and that begets cruelty. Some of the men stopped a rape from happening, others pointed out a guy who had beaten a woman. But we do have drug dealing in the park,” Webster said.

For 33-year resident Cheryl, the most pressing concern is that of mental health, which those familiar like Webster say is made much graver by drug use.

“Something has to be done with mental health. Living down here for over 33 years, I have never seen it like it is today. I am in my 60s and I have never seen mental health the way it is today. I see drug use and it is everywhere,” Cheryl said.

A tenet in Sara D. Roosevelt Park underscores the homelessness. Photo by Dean Moses

The issues Sara D. Roosevelt Park are even well known to Queens state Senator John Liu, who stressed the area’s notorious dangerousness during a press conference hours after Lee was murdered.

“This street has always known to haul its dangers. People are very careful about what they do and when they do things on this street. And yet this attack occurs, and the city continues to seemingly talk about long-term solutions without providing the relief that the community needs and demands right now,” Liu said on Feb. 13.

During amNewYork Metro’s investigation, the group refused to talk and became threatening. Yet many in the area state this subset is just a symptom of a much larger problem.

According to NYPD sources, in the last 56-day period, there have not been any major crimes that have occurred within the park. However, law enforcement states that they are actively working to improve the connections. 

“The Commanding Officer is aware of the homeless condition at the location and is working with city agencies to address it.  Precinct personnel will continue to conduct additional patrols and conduct appropriate enforcement at the location,” NYPD sources stated.