NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The homeless crisis has manifested itself inside Grand Central Terminal.
CBS2 was the first to highlight the complaints from restaurant owners, who fear they may be forced out of business because of it. But now, a possible solution is being tossed around, Jessica Layton reported Monday.
Under the lavish roof of the historic transit hub, the city’s homeless spend their days fishing through garbage cans, slumped over on staircases, and there are stories — even surveillance video — of stealing.
When asked if his workers ever feel unsafe, restaurant owner Joe Germanotta said, “Oh yeah. It’s a problem, and it’s a problem for customers, too.”
Spend a just a minute in Grand Central and you’ll see the struggling are scattered throughout the dining concourse.
“They could close off this space, dedicate it,” Germanotta said.
Germanotta, who owns Art Bird & Whiskey Bar, is suggesting turning the sidecar seating area into a designated space where the homeless would have a safe place to hang out, even get free food donated by restaurants. He pitched the plan during Monday’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority committee meeting.
“I would leave all the seating and the tables, maybe put benches in here, maybe a coffee station up front,” Germanotta said.
Two committee members acknowledged that something has to be done.
“It’s not only 1 in the morning … it’s 2 in the afternoon, 9 a.m. … it is all day long, the loitering and, frankly, harassment,” committee member Neal Zuckerman said.
“Our members find it challenging and threatening as well as the customers,” member Norman Brown added.
The proposed seating area for the homeless is just a few steps away from the MTA Police office. So, in theory, if there was a problem down there officers could get to it even faster than usual.
Commuters seem to be on board.
“Any help is better than none,” one person said.
However, MTA Police don’t seem to be buying into the plan.
“I just think segregating people like that is taking us down a bad road,” Chief of Field Operations Al Stiehler said.
“That would be the concern that I would have, that it would have the effect of attracting more homeless people to Metro-North and to the Grand Central Terminal area and that would actually depress sales on the dining concourse,” Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi said, adding, “There are at least three restaurants, though, that tell me they’re considering closing. Some of the vendors are doing extremely well despite the fact that there are homeless on the dining concourse.”
Germanotta said it’s easy to see the MTA’s motivation.
“All they want is our rent,” he said.
And Germanotta, for one, said he isn’t sure how long he can keep paying it.
Germanotta said he has the support of several other restaurant owners who would be willing to join him in donating food.