NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The mayor has promised a safe bed and support services to every homeless person being displaced by the nightly shutdown of all subway service meant to give MTA crews time to clean trains amid the coronavirus outbreak, but city leaders said they’ll continue to rely on an outside agency with mixed reviews.
“They sleep on the trains, they sleep on the stations and nobody does a damn thing about it,” said one subway user only identified as Barry.
He’s one of many who are frustrated with the state of underground transit and the lack of support to help the homeless, reports CBS2’s Kevin Rincon.
“Not to take them out of the subway, and they end up on the corner, or they end up on a bus,” said Tony Utano, president of Transport Union Workers Local 100. “That defeats the whole purpose.”
City officials spoke more optimistically on Monday.
“We will always have a bed available for anyone who’s coming out of the subway, who has been living on the street and needs a safe haven bed or shelter bed,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio during his daily COVID-19 briefing. “We will always have one available.”
The pronouncement comes after two homeless men were found dead on the MTA subway system overnight during the previous weekend. Police said the first man was discovered Friday night on a C train at the 168th Street station in Washington Heights, and the second man was found Saturday morning on a 4 train at the Utica Avenue station in Brooklyn.
Police identified them as 56-year-old Dwayne Hill and 61-year-old Robert Mongual. Their causes of death are still undetermined.
“We do already send out teams to check on homeless folks that can do and often do include a doctor or a nurse,” said de Blasio, adding NYPD and Homeless Services have also been calling in medical services for the homeless when needed.
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De Blasio echoed language heard from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday about viewing the cleaning work as an opportunity to get the homeless people to willingly accept the city’s services.
“It’s just a tragedy when we lose people, and these two individuals were people that we’ve been trying to bring in from the streets,” said the mayor. “It’s a difficult process (that) can take dozens, if not more, encounters to bring somebody in.”
Steven Banks, the commissioner of the Human Resources Administration’s Department of Social Services, said about 7000 of the 17,000 people in New York City’s single adult shelter system are now in hotel rooms.
“Until we can have wide-scale testing in place, we’re going to continue to do that this week and into the future,” he said Monday. “With respect to bringing people in from the streets, we’ve recently brought on 200 Safe Haven and stabilization beds and we’ll bring on more to be able to bring people in.”
“The BRC is one of the key partners that’s been in place for a number of years to bring people in from the streets, and they’re part of the effort, along with other street providers, who have enabled about 2,500 people to come in from the streets and remain off the streets.”
Banks added that of 20,000 homeless people approached about possible COVID-19 infections, 12 were identified with potential symptoms.
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Among the outside agencies de Blasio and Banks noted the city was relying on was the Bowery Residents Committee, or BRC, which got $14 million last year to help the MTA with the subway homeless problem.
“The BRC is one of the key partners that’s been in place for a number of years to bring people in from the streets, and they’re part of the effort, along with other street providers, who have enabled about 2,500 people to come in from the streets and remain off the streets,” said Banks on Monday.
An audit from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found the BRC is “failing to assist homeless people as much as possible… and the MTA is not adequately monitoring BRC’s provision of outreach services.”
At the time of the audit’s report in July 2019, the MTA had spent more than $14 million on contracts over a span of about a year.
De Blasio responded with a 5-year plan at the end of 2019 he said would open 1,000 new safe haven beds, build 1,000 new apartments and use an army of outreach workers to convince the city’s street people to come in out of the cold
The mayor promised to find $100 million in 2020 to fund that plan, about three months before the coronavirus pandemic shut down New York business and the major part of its economy.