NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Transit Chief Andy Byford has vowed to clean up New York City’s beleaguered subway system, and that means finding a way to deal with the homeless too.
But some advocates are concerned about what they call a zero-tolerance approach as the weather gets colder.
The homeless often head inside and underground when temperatures plunge, with the subway often serving as a common safe haven.
“It’s not an MTA problem,” said Byford. “It’s a societal problem.”
Byford says he does take issue with homeless people loitering in the subway system. He’s ordered the newly minted station managers to work with the NYPD and the Department for Homeless Services to bear down on the problem.
“There’s a fundamental difference between someone coming in to keep warm, I get it,” Byford said. “Warming up is one thing, but being offensive, obnoxious, and anti-social is another — and we’re not going to tolerate that.”
NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan says neighborhood coordination officers are working hand in hand with MTA station managers at six transit command stations in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
“I believe in the subway so far this year we’ve had 37 thousand interactions with people,” Monahan said on Tuesday. “Offering services, trying to get them help.”
Homeless advocates say while the intention may be good, the MTA’s effort to deal with the homeless may not be the best approach.
“First and foremost, I would go back to what he said as homelessness as a societal problem,” Giselle Routhier from the Coalition for the Homeless said. “We shouldn’t be thinking about homelessness as a quality of life issue for people who aren’t homeless. We should be thinking about homelessness as a huge problem for people who are without homes.”
Byford says the homeless should be treated compassionately as human beings, with individual problems. Concurrently, he adds the MTA must work to ensure safe and clean conditions in the stations and cars for all its customers.
The authority also works in partnership with the Bowery Residents’ Committee to direct the homeless to available services.