NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With the city’s homeless crisis causing mounting mayhem on the subways — a stunning three-fold spike in delays directly attributed to vagrants — the NYPD has embarked on a new program to get them off the trains and platforms.
There was a jaw-dropping incident on the “A” train last week. A homeless man threatened passengers with a hammer. It was just the latest example of the homeless causing chaos on the subways and grinding service to a halt.
Incidents involving the homeless have more than tripled in the past decade, many causing serious delays.
“In some cases it’s a very quick delay, maybe someone’s lying down,” NYC Transit Authority President Andy Byford said. “That could be resolved in a matter of minutes, but if it’s, for example, a homeless person who has walked down the tracks, you could be potentially delayed for 40 minutes with other trains stuck behind the incident trains.”
Byford told Kramer he was so concerned about the rising toll the homeless are taking on the system, especially on the E, A, 1 and 6 lines, that he rode the trains to see why the number of incidents involving the homeless have surged from 254 in 2008 to 856 last year. In 659 of those cases trains were delayed.
“We’ve got to find better solutions to give homeless people the help that they need and enable us to provide a clean traveling environment for our customers,” Byford said.
With the NYPD also feeling the pinch and pressure to do something, Edward Delatorre, the head of the Transit Bureau, announced a new initiative to lure the homeless off the trains and, hopefully, into shelters.
“We’re always looking for new, innovative ways to better service the ridership,” Delatorre said.
The new plan is something called “summons diversion.” It’s sort of a carrot-and-a-stick approach. A homeless person can have a ticket for a low-level offense — maybe spreading out on a train bench — vacated if he agrees to meet with an outreach worker above ground.
“If the person engages, that ticket will then be nullified,” Delatorre told Kramer.
The homeless on the subway will be given options from shelter to drop-in centers to detox centers, but Delatorre admitted it’s no guarantee the person won’t end up back up on the subway.
When asked if he’s worried that the initiative could end up being a revolving door, Delatorre said, “Not really. I believe it’s going to be a revolving door to some degree for some people because we already know from experience that certain people have to be engaged over and over and over again.”
Homelessness has proved to be a difficult problem for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, and as he campaigns for president he is bound to be challenged about it. On Wednesday, he would only say that the new diversion plan would help, and he promised to have more to say in the coming weeks.
And by the way, the man with the hammer would not have qualified for the diversion program because menacing with a hammer is not a low-level offense.