NYC tries to stop homeless people sheltering in subways

In the first morning rush hour since Mayor Eric Adams announced a sweeping plan on Friday to eliminate homeless sheltering in New York City’s subways, the public transit system was a little different.

Judith Williams, who has lived in and around the Tube for years, said she has noticed fewer people sleeping on trains over the past two days.

“Maybe they’re getting the message,” she said at a Brooklyn train station on Tuesday.

At Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, outreach workers in orange vests, carrying clipboards, fanned out looking for homeless people to help. Police approached two men, one sleeping at the foot of a staircase, the other lying on the ground, and told them they had to move.

Manuel de Jesús Delgado and some of the other regulars sheltering inside the Jamaica-Van Wyck station in Queens glanced at the group of police officers patrolling the platform and walked towards a escalator.

“What am I supposed to do when there’s four standing there with guns and badges?” Mr. de Jesús, 72, asked in Spanish. “We can’t stay here.

Inside the station, Al Walker, 61, who was on his way to work, said he was “shocked” that the platform, usually packed with homeless people, was empty except for passengers boarding and got off the trains. “The mayor really put them on their toes,” he said.

But a sprawling metro system with 472 stations and thousands of carriages in service is difficult to transform overnight, especially when people who have sheltered in the system, sometimes for years, feel they have no more appealing alternative on a February morning. .

Ms Williams said that although the police forced her to get up from the subway platform floor during the night, they agreed to her sleeping on a bench next to a shopping trolley full of her belongings, which she has learned to do over the years.

Outreach workers at Penn Station offered homeless people the usual limited choices, usually a bed in a group shelter. And they were getting the usual no-thanks. Many homeless people refuse to stay in shelters because they find them unsafe or because they have extensive rules and curfews.

A man knocked down by the officers climbed onto the platform. Another walked down a hallway in the commuter rail portion of the terminal and lay down again.

And Mr. de Jesús and his friends from Jamaica got no further than the entrance to the top of the escalators leading to the station, where they sat next to their belongings in the freezing drizzle.

Yet in other parts of the system, nothing had changed. On a Downtown 2 train at the 149th Street station in the Bronx, a sleeping man had an entire carriage to himself as commuters piled into the next two carriages to get away from a strong smell . Another car had three people sleeping in it.

At 110th Street in Manhattan, a man smoked crack on the platform in full view of two officers about 10 feet away.

On a train from Downtown 3 to Midtown Manhattan at 9 a.m., a man lay across four seats with a granny cart by his side, his legs resting in the lap of a woman in a black parka whose the body was draped over his.

Opposite them, Johnny Pruitt, on his way to work in a gymnasium, said he was not surprised, given that the new era had only been announced four days before.

“It would be nice if they had a place to put them,” said Mr. Pruitt, 39, who lives in Astoria, Queens.

“At the end of the day, you want a clean, safe driving experience, but you don’t want that at the expense of kicking those people, who are real people, onto the pavement.”

On Friday, Mr. Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced that more than 1,000 people sheltering in the nation’s largest subway system would be forced to leave. The move follows a rise in underground violent crime, including several high-profile attacks linked to homeless people.

Police and mental health workers would be deployed in the system. The police expelled people who used the trains for anything other than transportation; social workers would connect them with social services and housing, the mayor and governor said.

“No more doing what you want,” Mr. Adams said. “Those days are over.”

A spate of subway attacks over the holiday weekend, which saw at least eight violent incidents, only one of which involved an attacker who appeared to be homeless, underscored the difficulty of stamping out random violence in the system.

At a Tuesday monthly committee meeting of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, the head of the police department’s transit office, Chief Jason Wilcox, said that overnight, more two dozen agents from the transit office had escorted teams from the city’s health and homeless services departments.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Adams said six teams of outreach workers were deployed on Monday and the city plans to have 30 teams. So far, Adams added, teams have interacted with around 100 apparently homeless people on the subway.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said officers were focusing on high priority stations and train lines where ridership or reported crime has increased.

Mr Wilcox added that police officials expected to complement these efforts with stricter enforcement of the Tube’s code of conduct, which prohibits staying in a station for more than an hour and occupying more than a seat on a train or platform.

“We know that enforcing rules and regulations is really not the long-term solution to finding them a home, and we understand that,” Chief Wilcox said of homelessness in the transportation system. in common. “But we are also deeply committed to enforcing order.”

Officials said the focus would first be on end-of-line stations, where homeless people often congregate, and at the Jamaica Center station at the end of the E line, outreach workers said on Tuesday. that there were far fewer than usual.

At Penn Station, however, some of the law enforcement officers issued a skeptical note and said they were just moving homeless people from place to place.

“For us, it’s frustrating,” said an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because she’s not supposed to speak to the media. “We just play chess with them.”

She added: “There really isn’t an answer right now until the city can produce a suitable alternative. It’s just another bandage on an open wound.

At the top of the stairs from where the officers were patrolling, on the platform of trains 2 and 3, Jenny Hammond was sitting smoking a cigarette, which is prohibited in the system.

When asked if she had been approached by outreach workers, she said she had been repeatedly. “But the only thing they will offer you is shelter and I will absolutely not go,” she added.

As the timing was right, four workers from the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a social service organization the city hires to do subway outreach, approached. “Your name is Jenny, isn’t it?” we asked.

Social workers offered Ms Hammond a room in a shelter. She refused.

They asked her what she needed. She said she lost her ID card.

Social workers offered to refer her to a soup kitchen at a subway station where she could get a new ID. Ms Hammond said the edema in her legs made it too difficult to walk.

An outreach worker said he might be able to secure a bed for Ms Hammond in a kind of low-barrier shelter called a safe haven, where there is no curfew and where she would only have only one roommate. Mrs. Hammond said no, because they wouldn’t let her bring liquor.

The outreach team offered to get a walker from Ms Hammond from their office inside Penn Station, so she could walk to the soup kitchen to get her new ID.

After much ado, she agreed. Outreach workers said they could meet her in an hour with the walker and asked where she would be. Outside a liquor store downstairs from the station, she said. The outreach team helped her up and slowly and carefully led her up the stairs.

David Dee Delgado and Michael Gold contributed report.

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