In an attempt to address the issue of homeless people in the city subway system, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program to encourage people living in the subway system to take advantage of the city’s social services.
Starting July 1st, when the NYPD stops a homeless person in the subways for violating MTA rules, like farebeating or “lying outstretched,” the person will have the option of being assessed by an outreach team, and will receive a referral to either a shelter or service. During this process, their summonses will be cleared. However, a press release notes that incidents of violent crimes will continue to result in arrest and enforcement. The pilot program will be administered with the Bowery Residents’ Committee, and will only apply to stops in Manhattan.
According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), there are currently 58,004 individuals in shelters, of which 64 percent are adults. A DHS survey earlier this year estimated the city’s unsheltered homeless population to be 3,588, as of January 2019. The survey stated that nearly 60 percent of this unsheltered population sleep in the subway.
MTA data obtained by NY1 found that homeless individuals accounted for 371 separate incidents on the subway in the first three months of 2019—from menacing riders, passing out on trains, and defecating in cars—compared to 245 incidents over the same time period in 2018. The MTA said that 84 percent of the 371 incidents caused service delays. (Overall, however, subway delays have decreased this year, and there were more than 37,000 delays in February alone, most of them having nothing to do with the homeless)
In a statement to Gothamist, Giselle Routhier, the Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, called the program “misguided,” and said that it “will only serve to further criminalize homeless New Yorkers through useless summonses.”
“People avoid services and shelters for a variety of legitimate reasons, the most important being the shortage of safe, welcoming shelter beds and permanent and supportive housing,” Routhier said. “Reducing the tragedy of people taking makeshift refuge in transit facilities and on the trains means giving them somewhere better to go—not using the police to chase them in circles.”
On Friday morning, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer asked the mayor about how the unsafe shelters could hamper the pilot program.
“I know good news doesn’t travel very far in this town,” de Blasio replied, adding that during his time in office he put the NYPD in charge of making shelters safer, and pointed to an increase in mental health and substance abuse programs during his tenure.
If homeless individuals opt in to the pilot assessment, the Bowery Residents’ Committee outreach team will offer a shelter location that provides either a medical or non-medical detox placement, and a dedicated overnight safe haven bed. In a statement, Muzzy Rosenblatt, CEO of BRC, said the solution, “is not to criminalize the victim but to guide them toward the help they need.”