NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — From sleeping on the ground to stealing, some business owners in Grand Central Terminal say the homeless population is taking over and they simply can’t take it anymore.
Inside the world-class transit hub adorned with grand chandeliers, you’ll find men and women sleeping at tables, hunched over on benches, using drinking fountains to bathe and walking barefoot feet away from where about two dozen business owners are trying to make a living selling food.
“At 5:30 in the afternoon, it becomes a homeless shelter,” business owner Joe Germanotta said.
Germanotta owns Art Bird & Whiskey Bar, one of the restaurants in the lower-level dining concourse of Grand Central Terminal. He says the overwhelming homeless problem has him on the brink of closing. He’s already cut staff.
“What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?” CBS2’s Jessica Layton asked.
“People sitting in chairs with their… exposed,” Germanotta said. “Sometimes they can be violent … One guy, I think it was yesterday, he was peeing himself.”
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A worker at a Chinese-American take-out recently opened the shop to find a man passed out on their floor, and they have surveillance video of someone breaking in overnight and stealing tablets.
“The customers are afraid to come in to buy. You know, the customers don’t want to eat because there’s no space for seating,” restaurant manager Tamarsha Sandiford said.
“People are scared to come and sit here and eat with their families,” restaurant manager Jimmy Ponce said.
With thousands of commuters passing through each day, it’s not cheap to be in business.
Germanotta says he pays about $50,000 a month to the MTA.
Businesses that blame the problem for a loss in revenue say they’ve brought their complaints to the MTA multiple times but it’s falling on deaf ears.
The MTA and Metro-North Railroad see things differently.
“It’s a very attractive place to do business and we’ve had no trouble filling the leases in the dining concourse,” said Catherine Rinaldi, president of Metro-North Railroad.
“But would you say that homeless folks bathing, harassing customers for money and stealing from restaurants, that can’t be good for business,” Layton said.
“Well, you know, in terms of the types of conduct that we’re seeing here on the dining concourse, crimes are actually relatively low,” Rinaldi said. “But I’m not going to pretend that homelessness is not a problem.”
“It’s all across the city. The problem of homeless people who are on the street is as bad as I have ever seen it,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Still, by and large, business owners want to see more police patrolling the terminal and more help offered to the homeless so they don’t have to take up residence there.
“We can check on them. We can check on their welfare and the police and Metro-North staff do that every single day, but we can’t make them accept services,” Rinaldi said. “It all comes back to the lack of adequate housing. I mean, this is a place where the city of New York needs to step up.”
In response to that, the city Department of Homeless Services told CBS2 it is working to address getting New Yorkers off the streets and into housing, and as the agency does that, they are welcoming the help from all their state partners in what they are calling a statewide issue.