NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Less than 24 hours after CBS2 demanded answers about the homeless population in Grand Central Terminal, we’re getting action.
MTA Police are stepping up with an increased presence, but that’s only part of the solution.
Between 5-6 p.m. every night, some business owners say Grand Central essentially turns into a homeless shelter, but they’re hoping things will start to get better.
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When restaurant manager Tarmarsha Sandiford showed up to work at Wok Chi inside Grand Central Terminal on Friday morning, there was a homeless man already waiting for her at the counter.
“The biggest problem right now is the homeless issues in Grand Central … It’s bad for business, and the business is flopping,” she told CBS2’s Jessica Layton.
She says lately, more than ever, people who have fallen on tough times have taken over the area where she’s trying to serve food, harassing employees and customers for money.
“They’ll disappear for like an hour or two and then as soon as police leave, they’re gonna come back,” Sandiford said.
Some say the Grand Central dining concourse is so overrun with men and women passed out, slumped over, digging through trash and getting violent, it’s forced them to consider closing. CBS2 first started highlighting the problem Thursday night
“We get homeless people coming in and running and, at times, harassing our sales associates,” business owner Scott Zaro said.
“I’m embarrassed. The general conditions are so poor,” restaurant owner Joe Germanotta told CBS2 on Thursday. “There’s not enough outreach to people down here.”
Then Friday, store managers started seeing changes.
“There were a lot of cops around today,” Sandiford said.
Restaurant manager Jimmy Ponce, of Tri Tip Grill, says for the first time in a long time, MTA Police spoke directly with him about his concerns.
“Today, there were more police walking around with persons in charge of Grand Central that were actually taking care of the place,” he said. “They’re taking action right now.”
It’s action some restaurateurs say is long overdue.
“The consistent complaint I have heard this week is I don’t see enough patrols. Can you give them more patrols down here, can you be reaching out more to these folks who’ve fallen on tough times?” Layton said.
“We do a lot of outreach to the people who have fallen on tough times. We act on behavior, not on appearance, and that’s a very important thing for us. We’ll walk up to somebody and talk to them 10, 15 times a day. If they refuse services, we’ll just go on and come back later on,” said Al Stiehler, chief of field operations for the MTA Police Department.
MTA Police want to stress that they can’t arrest or remove someone unless they’re actually breaking a rule, and even then, even when they say they have to leave the terminal, most of the time, those folks just end up back on the street. It’s a vicious cycle with no easy solution.
The MTA and Metro-North Railroad say much of the problem inside the terminal is due to a lack of affordable housing in the city. The Department of Homeless Services says it welcomes help from state agencies in addressing what it calls a statewide problem.