Upper East Side homeless ‘can tipper’ has caused unchecked mayhem for years, frustrating neighbors
He’s a one man menace, a walking tornado of trash. They call him the “Can Tipper” of the Upper East Side —and he can’t be stopped by the NYPD, homeless outreach workers or local politicians.
For years, a homeless man has made a habit of knocking over garbage cans on a roughly 15-block stretch of Lexington Ave. around E. 80th St., frustrating business owners and residents who say they’ve been unable to stop the near-daily mayhem.
“Everyday he comes in and says, ‘hey motherf-----s’ and then a bunch of racist stuff about how I am Middle Eastern and how I shouldn’t be here,” said Habeeb Nasr, 29, who works at a Smoke N Vape store. “We used to give him stuff but then he became more aggressive and we stopped.”
He added that he used to call the cops on the man, but then police stopped responding.
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“Now they don’t even come. I just ignore him. It has been going on for two years,” Nasr said.
The 48-year-old man’s antics have included menacing pedestrians with items plucked from the garbage and just generally making a mess of stores, surveillance video viewed by the Daily News showed. Local politicians and business owners estimate he’s caused thousands of dollars in damage.
“He scares the daylights out of people,” says Andrew Fine, a lifelong resident who often posts about the “can man” on Twitter. “If anyone approaches him or tries to stop him, he threatens and tells them to get the f--- away.”
The city can’t seem to find a solution. Cops from the 19th Precinct routinely take the man to a hospital for a psych evaluation — but he’s usually back to tipping cans within a few days.
On Aug. 6 police received a 911 call reporting the man was harassing and threatening passersby at Lexington Ave. and E. 60th St. Cops took him to Metropolitan Hospital and he was back on the street within days, showing the same signs of mental distress.
Police declined to release the man’s name because he was not arrested. Numerous efforts to speak with him directly were unsuccessful.
Local politicians say they receive irate calls from constituents about the can tipper.
“It’s unacceptable. We can’t have individuals roaming the streets and knocking over trash cans and disrespecting quality of life,” said Councilman Keith Powers, (D-Upper East Side). “Whether or not the city’s attempts have failed this individual, we still have to try to do everything we can to solve it — like fix trash cans and fix up the street.”
In desperation, some merchants have chained trash cans to lamp posts on their own dime to deter the can tipper and prevent him from rolling the receptacles into traffic.
“It’s been way too long that no one has done anything about it,” said Granit Boshnjakaj, a manager at the Famous Famiglia pizzeria on Lexington Ave, at E. 84th St. said. “He comes almost every day, screams and yells, but I don’t know what he says. What can I do? People call the cops but they don’t do anything.”
Seemingly everyone in the area has a story about him.
“Ah yes, I know him very well. I have had to kick him out many times. He comes in the store and tries to take candy from the jars,” said Robert Robles, 49, of Loft Opticians at E. 77th St.
Robles said during one episode in late July, it took 10 cops two hours to calm the man down.
“The problem is he is mentally ill and the city is not doing anything about the mental illness of the homeless,” he said.
Transit sources say the man frequently rides the subway — often the 4 train — and knocks over cans along that route as well.
“He comes through here every day,” said a member of transit maintenance at the 86th St. station. “He tears through all the trash cans making our jobs harder.”
“We call the police, but they say there’s nothing they can do if we don’t actually see him pulling the bags out of the cans,” the exasperated worker added. “We know he’s mentally ill. One time, it took 10 cops to get them out of the station.”
On Aug. 17, the man threw a salad at a car on E. 85th St., knocked over a can at Famous Famiglia — one of his preferred targets — and threw two wine bottles into the intersection at E. 82nd but left before cops arrived, according to Fine, a dedicated documentarian of the can tipper.
On Aug. 21, he returned and wrecked the trash can outside the pizza shop so badly it had to be thrown away.
“On the one hand, you have a violent criminal who is constantly undoing the work of an entire community,” said Fine, 53, a real estate broker active with the E. 86th St. Association. “On the other hand, you have a sympathetic character who is suffering from serious mental illness and desperately needs help. The city has to find a way to deal with the violent and dangerous mentally ill to get them the help they need.”
The NYPD’s 19th Precinct is a regular target of residents’ frustration on social media.
“It’s unbelievable that this guy with the same daily MO cannot be arrested. Just one unmarked car cruising his regular streets [and it’s] not possible?” one blogger wrote.
“Members of the community have been advised if they see the individual to lets [sic] officers know,” an NYPD spokesman said.
Sanitation Department officials, meanwhile, declined to answer questions about how they are handling the man’s antics, and twice referred the News to city Department of Homeless Services.
Homeless Services did not respond to inquiries.
Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side) is frustrated and noted that he successfully pushed the city to spend $250,000 for 250 heavy duty trash in the neighborhood.
“It’s a little infuriating to have someone running around knocking them over,” he said. “There is a problem with the city when someone is being allowed to go out there and destroy property worth thousands of dollars. We are failing our taxpayers.”