NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — When it comes to the homelessness crisis in New York City, police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said that many of the homeless do not want help.
CBS2’s Andrea Grymes got an exclusive look Thursday on how outreach teams try to show the homeless a better way, one person at a time.
Well after 11 p.m., the work is just beginning for a homeless outreach team.
With the sound of rumbling trains in the background – and the sight of a man with numerous bags who appears homeless, though not everyone always is – team members make their move at the Chambers Street No. 1, 2 and 3 train station in Lower Manhattan.
They try to encourage the man to come inside one of their beds or drop-in centers – with the ultimate goal of permanent housing.
But the man in the Chambers Street station did not want help. It was something Rodrigo Lisboa – who is also homeless — understood.
“I have a drug addiction,” Lisboa said. “That’s the reason why I’m homeless – because of drugs.”
CBS2 met Lisboa outside the West 4th Street station in Greenwich Village. He said the outreach teams have also tried to help him.
“They can’t help you unless you’re going to make the first decision to help yourself,” Lisboa said. He went on to say he has not made such a decision for himself – “not yet, I have not.”
From drug addiction to emotional problems and severe mental illness, outreach workers are up against everything.
“It’s tough,” said Erin Eisenberg of the New York City Department of Homeless Services. “You know, not everyone accepts our services on the first time, or the 10th time or the 100th time, but we always continue to engage with them.”
Over the last several weeks, CBS2 spent some very late nights in the subways – getting a firsthand look at how the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are trying to combat homelessness underground.
“It’s a significant issue for the MTA,” said agency spokesman Adam Lisberg. “We know it’s a concern for our customers. It’s a concern for us.”
CBS2’s Grymes asked Eisenberg what the Department of Homeless Services would say to New Yorkers who are wondering whether anything is being done to deal with the homelessness crisis in the transit system. Grymes noted that many New Yorkers are frustrated with homelessness on the streets and the subways.
“What I say is as a lifelong New Yorker, there’s always been homelessness,” Eisenberg said. “Unfortunately, no matter what we do, people are always going to end up in an unfortunate situation and today, we’re really fortunate that we acutally have more resources than ever before.”
Those resources include the nonprofit Bowery Residents Committee. About a year ago, the MTA and the city boosted BRC’s contract to $6 million to do homeless outreach in the subways.
Teams also work in hubs such as Penn Station.
The Department of Homeless Services said staff will increase to 90 by the end of the month. Eisenberg said the department has had more than 1,000 homeless placements since July 2014.
The Department of Homeless Services said outreach work takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and every day of the year – in all five boroughs.
The NYPD also plays a role. In Coney Island, Brooklyn, officers from the Homeless Outreach Unit were seen working on the last stop for the N Train at Stillwell Avenue.
The NYPD usually goes out on joint operations with BRC.
“We’re not looking to go out and take enforcement against them,” said NYPD Capt. Roy Kaplan. “Obviously if there’s violations, we’ll correct the violations that are out there, but we want to offer outreach to these homeless individuals.”
Potential violations include causing a disturbance or lying down on a platform or train. Otherwise, legally, police can only encourage people to accept help voluntarily.
Many do not accept help. But back in Manhattan, CBS2 found one man who decided he would – accepting an appointment with homeless outreach workers the next morning.
CBS2 asked the Department of Homeless Services if the contracted subway program is part of the comprehensive review of the department, but had not heard back late Thursday.
An MTA spokesman said the agency is also trying to learn more about the issue. He added that the MTA is very happy with the work the BRC is doing, but if there is a way to do it better, the agency is happy to be part of that process.