NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Commuters are calling attention to a growing problem of drug use in the homeless population at New York City train stations.
Thursday morning, a homeless man was found unconscious on the floor inside Penn Station.READ MORE: Subway Mayhem: NYPD Searching For Multiple Suspects In 3 Separate Attacks In Last Few Weeks
Witnesses say he passed out from K2, synthetic marijuana.
Commuters say substance abuse and mental illness within the homeless population in city train stations is getting getting worse, and many riders don’t feel safe.
“They look like they’re drugged up,” one rider said.
“One night, I was trying to get by them and one guy spit on me, which of course is incredibly upsetting, especially because with COVID,” one woman said.
“You have to be careful because, you don’t know, they can push you on the train tracks. It’s crazy,” one man said.
“Being homeless is not a crime,” Amtrak Chief of Police Sam Dotson told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.
Dotson says all 100 of his officers at Penn Station are trained in crisis intervention.READ MORE: NYPD To Add 644 Additional Officers To Subway System Patrol
Along with the NYPD, MTA and the New York National Guard, they patrol and interact with individuals experiencing homelessness daily.
“If they’re not engaged in behaviors that are illegal or contrary to good order, it’s not a policing issue,” Dotson said.
“The police are the folks that are authorized to interact with people in a more direct way, and their participation is absolutely critical,” MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren said.
But Giselle Routhier, Coalition for the Homeless policy director, says fewer people are getting that help since the pandemic began.
“If their clinician closed for a while and then switched to virtual appointments and then that person doesn’t have a phone or an internet connection, now access to care is lost and now they have to start over again,” she said.
ThriveNYC and the Department of Social Services declined CBS2’s request to address the lack of technology available to the homeless, but the agency says during the MTA’s overnight subway shutdown, outreach teams were able to place 750 unsheltered individuals into shelters, including Safe Havens.
“That strategy has been working to get folks off the street, and Safe Havens work because there’s mental health support and substance misuse support in the facilities. So no, in fact, there’s a lot of help available in person,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.MORE NEWS: MTA Unveils New Inclined Benches At Some Subway Stations
The mayor says the city just added 1,000 more Safe Haven beds, but homeless advocates are urging the mayor to speed up the building of supportive housing.