NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The homeless are packing New York City subways again, raising health concerns amid a chorus of demands that Mayor Bill de Blasio do something.

In normal times pictures of the homeless sleeping in car after car on the subway are a cause for concern. But these are not normal times and Michael Fischer, president of the Central Park South Civic Association, is sounding the alarm, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday.

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He’s worried that the homeless, who have little access to soap and sanitizers, could spread the coronavirus.

“It’s a capital D. It’s a disaster. The city knew about this for two months. They knew that we had a terrible virus that was hitting the city, hitting the world, and they didn’t do a thing about it,” Fischer said.


He said if a homeless person on the subway is sick, “They probably have spread it a lot amongst themselves. You were on the subway. They have probably have spread it amongst a lot of people who had ridden the subways.”

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City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he’s worried about the number of homeless on the subways. He said the mayor should put the street homeless in empty hotels.

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“The city should be getting these hotels, putting homeless New Yorkers in these hotels, isolating them, making sure they’re practicing social distancing. We need people off the subways. The only people that should be on the subways right now are the essential workers,” Johnson said.

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And while city officials are being guarded about using hotels for the homeless, officials tell CBS2 that a Financial District hotel is being used to isolate several dozen homeless New Yorkers with coronavirus symptoms.

Officials said they have 500 isolation units available at four facilities.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Director of Safety Patrick Warren said even during this pandemic the agency is trying to get the homeless off the trains.

“Five percent of the homeless that we reach out to every day, they are going to accept services, which is really pretty extraordinary,” Warren said. “The problem is they go to shelter, they stay there for a night or they stay there for two nights or maybe even three nights, but the next thing you know, they’re right back out in the subway system.”

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The Department of Homeless Services said its outreach teams have had nearly 9,000 contacts with street homeless individuals to see if they’re sick or need help.