“They victimize poor people,” Finley told Gothamist early Saturday morning, speaking about the police who forced her to leave the World Trade Center terminal. “I used the subway to warm up.”
As metro ridership dropped due to COVID-19, people sleeping on trains became more visible, and growing efforts to move homeless people off the streets followed. After a political confrontation between the MTA and the mayor over how to solve the problem, and an editorial by the acting president of the New York City Transit Authority promising to prevent people from taking shelter in the subway, Cuomo announced last Thursday that the MTA would start closing every night to disinfect the trains.
The mayor and the governor described the historic closure as a measure that protects essential workers and public health while allowing more homeless people to get help. Advocates of those sleeping on the street, however, fear that the closures will force more people to sleep outside, endangering the health of vulnerable New Yorkers who have consciously chosen to seek refuge on the trains.
“The messages appear to be a very deliberate effort to force vulnerable New Yorkers out of the transit system,” Jacquelyn Simone, political analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. ” Right now, the city is just saying to people, “You can’t be here; you have to get off the train and not offer them a viable alternative. “
In addition to the ongoing outreach efforts to find shelter for those sleeping outside, the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) has taken a series of efforts to protect themselves from infection in the facilities. the city. Shelter staff increased social distancing and limited gatherings within institutions and isolated symptomatic individuals. DSS announced last week that it would move 1,000 people from group shelters to hotel rooms each week and that it was increasing its testing and follow-up capacity to reduce COVID-19 cases, in line with current efforts. in all the city.
At a press conference this morning, agency commissioner Steven Banks said that about 7,000 people – 3,500 of whom had already been displaced before the pandemic – were placed in hotels and that 200 beds moreover, safe shelters, which offered fewer restrictions than traditional shelters, were available.
“At DSS, we use all the tools at our disposal to fight against this virus and protect our customers, by implementing aggressive strategies to connect all those who need it to care or to isolation and keep all New- Yorkers we serve out of harm’s way, ”Arianna Fishman, a spokesperson for the DSS, said in a statement. When Gothamist asked him, The DSS did not indicate how many COVID-19 tests had been completed in total.
Lawyers say the city is not moving fast enough to protect those living in shelters, which house around 57,000 people every night. Assembly sites for single adults, which include about 100 of the city’s 450 shelters, typically have 8 to 12 beds per room.
Even before COVID-19 hit New York, many homeless people were bristling with the loss of independence that accompanied entry into the shelter system. Others have had traumatic experiences that prevent them from entering a common living space. Now private providers of homeless services are concerned that shelters pose a health threat and are more dangerous than the metro.
As of May 3, the DSS was following 699 cases of COVID-19 among individuals in accommodation and 38 among unprotected individuals, while 65 deaths were linked to coronavirus.
“People [are] coughing everywhere, “said Bret Hartford, director of outreach services at New York City Relief, about the shelters. “People don’t feel safe. People keep asking how to get into the hotel rooms that pop up because shelters are a purulent place. “
As advocates challenge government policies on helping the homeless and ask why the city has not paid for more hotel rooms, some of those affected by the metro closings are unaware that trains and stations will be closed. (After Gothamist entered the World Trade Center station around 1:00 a.m. Saturday to speak to passengers who were removed from the trains, police said the station was closed and threatened a Gothamist reporter if they did not leave. not.)
“All customers will be informed of new timetable changes via digital messages on more than 7,000 screens on the MTA network, announcements made on the loudspeakers of trains and stations, publications on social networks and by the through news organizations, “MTA spokesperson Tim Minton told Gothamist.
Last Thursday, Josh Dean, the executive director of Human.nyc, an organization that works to end homelessness on the street, spoke to people who slept on trains and were escorted from stations. Dean said the runners he spoke with were not yet aware of the overnight stops.
During his stop at 96th Street Q on Thursday, Dean recorded police removing a man wearing a shoe and sending him outside, despite the rain and wind. In a video, officers can be heard hitting metro seats and a pole. When asked, the NYPD did not say how many deployed officers had received training on homeless awareness, but told Gothamist, “We will provide as many officers as possible for these terminals. “
“Yo, you don’t need services, right? – NYPD agent leads homeless awareness campaign @NYCMayorSome orders
Watch as they walk a homeless man with a shoe off the subway and in the pouring rain. pic.twitter.com/HTJUY2GRLs
– Human.nyc (@humandotnyc) May 1, 2020
Such methods of managing awareness of the homeless have worried supporters, underscoring their belief that the city treats homelessness as a criminal problem rather than a housing problem. And Simone said the amount of staff providing outreach services is less important than the resources and facilities the city can offer.
“You can have dozens of police officers and dozens of outreach workers telling people to get off the train, but if they don’t provide a private and safe place to go instead of trains, the problem will not be resolved. ” Simone said to Gothamist