NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An unprecedented effort is underway to disinfect the subways. For the first time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has shut down the system during overnight hours to clean the trains and stations and clear out the homeless.
But what became of all those people? CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas found out on Wednesday.
The shutdown has been touted as a way to disinfect the trains and stations, but it’s also meant to get the homeless out of the system.
It came amidst mounting pressure from transit workers and riders who sounded the alarm on a growing problem.
“I think it is going to open the door wider getting even more people off the streets,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
More than 1,000 officers descended into the stations late Tuesday night. At the end of the lines they were joined by nurses and homeless outreach teams to provide assistance.
Of the 252 people they engaged, 139 accepted services. Most went to shelters, while the rest were bound for hospitals, including two who were taken involuntarily.
“We’ve never seen this many people, this high a percentage of people, who are living on the streets agree to something different,” de Blasio said.
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Josh Goldfein, a homeless rights advocate with the Legal Aid Society, was also out monitoring the city’s efforts.
“It was terrifying. There were people who were clearly impaired who were in need of assistance. There were also people who were just afraid to go into a shelter and didn’t know where they were going to go,” Goldfein said.
With outreach services only available at limited stations, it’s unclear how many were removed without access to help.
Goldfein said this is a social issue, not one needing law enforcement.
“The city should use social work staff and outreach staff, rather than law enforcement staff, and offer people access to space where they can isolate themselves,” Goldfein said.
There are real concerns about catching the virus in a shelter, but without going to one it’s hard to get into one of the city’s hotel rooms.
With no arrests or summonses, city leaders said the first night of enforcement was a success, one they acknowledge will take a lot more to truly address the ongoing homelessness crisis.