Homeless person on the subway (292415)
Credit: Dave Goodson photo

When he unveiled his preliminary budget plan last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams focused on the issue dominating New York City conversation: crime. Crime on the subway more pointedly.

Therefore, Adams said he is focusing on homelessness and the subway crime that sometimes goes with it.

He announced on Tuesday 2.22.2022, that six problem lines—A, E, N, R, 1, 2, 3—will receive extra law enforcement and social service attention.

Adams’ Subway Safety Plan stated, “We will begin enforcing the subway system’s rules of conduct, and do so transparently and fairly. We will also recognize: enforcement without short- and long-term support, from mental health care to housing, will not solve this challenge.”

“That’s the focus, we must look at street homelessness, and then we want to create partnerships, to help those who are dealing with areas of depression and other issues around mental health crisis. And then we need to go beyond it,” said the mayor. “We’ve sat down with leaders in this field across the country, using telemedicine could also be used during mental health crises.

“We don’t do that, we are afraid to think differently,” said Adams.

There has been deadly crime on the subway system recently. But there are also the everyday interactions that have raised fear of violence, harm, or compromised health.

Wearing holey hospital socks, a torn dingy T-shirt and ripped pants, a man seemingly with an open sore on every exposed part of his body got on the A -train at rush hour one morning at 59th Street. He stretched out a gnarled hand and asked a rider for some money.

There was nowhere for the rider to go. To the right a woman had taken over the train car with a shopping cart and mounds of tattered belongings. To the left a group of men looked like they were about to get into something.

Then the man began coughing. A lot. Sans mask.

Then there was the casual smoker lighting up defiantly on the moving 6 train. No one said a word. Not one.

“There is no way at this present time you should walk on a train and not see a presence of a police officer. The subway system needs a deterrent to all this crime,” said Daniel Goodine, community activist and co-founder of Men Elevating Leadership. He added, “As much as our community has a justified contradiction with them, they should still be on their job in the transit system.

“If you claim that the issue is so much homelessness and mental illness on the streets, why are we not combining agencies to deal with the issues? We need to see an immediate change. This goes back to Bloomberg and de Blasio. It’s alright on a cold night to send out the cavalry to make sure nobody freezes to death or to count people, yet it does not filter down on a regular night, or the other 364 days of the year.”

Adams just announced with New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul a “zero-tolerance” policy on subway homelessness.

Following their announcement, over the past weekend, there were six notable violent incidents in the subway. Six people were stabbed and/or slashed in a subway or on a train including a 74-year-old man.

“This is a place where there have been heinous acts of crime and that the homeless have been finding that that’s where they’re congregating and living,” said Hochul last week. “And that’s not a place that they need to be, they should be. They need to get services, they need direct interventions.”

However, Adams’ budget includes a lot of cuts that had an anonymous public figure calling him a “Republican in Democrats’ clothing.” According to City Limits, the mayor’s budget plan calls for $615 million in cuts from homeless services bringing the funding down to $2.15 billion from $2.8 billion.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for Policy with Coalition for the Homeless, said, however, that Adams is approaching this issue with a technique that’s never worked.

“Repeating the failed outreach-based policing strategies of the past will not end the suffering of homeless people bedding down on the subway,” Nortz stated. “It is sickening to hear Mayor Adams liken unsheltered homeless people to a cancer. They are human beings. The mayor’s own police department recently noted that those who shelter in the transit system are there because they believe they have no safer alternative. Criminalizing homelessness and mental illness is not the answer.”

Nortz pointed to a piece she wrote in the New York Daily News calling for more help for mental illness along with “the restoration of 600 NYC psychiatric inpatient beds previously converted to COVID-19.”

Mayor Adams told the Amsterdam News, “We have to deal with the mental health crisis, that’s what you see on the streets. When you see street homelessness, you’re really dealing with a mental health crisis.”

He noted, “As we emerge from COVID-19, the subway system is a crucial piece of our economic recovery.” Adams is responding to the concerns of riders by stating in his Subway Safety Plan: “We will state without reservation that our subways exist to move paying customers from one point to another. They are not meant to house individuals or provide recreational space, and we will make it clear our stations and trains are not intended—or available—as an alternative.”

With the tag “One City Working Together,” the new Adams administration determined, “The city will deploy up to 30 inter-agency collaborative teams that bring together the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the New York City Police Department (NYPD), and community based providers in high-need locations across our city. To expand the number of clinicians who can refer individuals for assessment in hospitals, staff across agencies will be trained in 9.58 assessments—enabling better engagement and evaluation with individuals experiencing homelessness, their needs and connecting them to advanced services better suited to triage and provide for their care.”

But some New Yorkes jumped into the mix to let Adams know that he was running with the ball the wrong way.

“Mayor Adams’ budget proposal cements what we already knew: criminalization and policing will come first, and investments in services and care will pale in comparison,” stated Jawanza Williams, director of organizing at VOCAL-NY. “Continuing to funnel money to the NYPD’s bloated budget at the expense of life-saving services will only increase violence and put low income communities at further risk. Mayor Adams is well aware of the solutions we’ve been demanding for years, but we have yet to see those investments materialize. Put simply: this proposal flies in the face of calls from leaders and progressive lawmakers to create a caring and compassionate city.”

Williams also said that Adams’ policies will accomplish the opposite of his wishes and cause more violence while not investing in the community.

So, what community does Adams’ team hope to build after he takes the homeless out of the subways and out of the streets? When the AmNews contacted the mayor’s office, they sent a copy of their “Subway Safety Plan.” Particularly, the section labeled “Places.”

This section of the subway plan states that City Hall would create “Drop-in-Centers” to “provide a pathway” for people to come indoors and set them up close to subway stations known for high numbers of homeless individuals. The administration wants to also provide mobile health care for homeless New Yorkers on the subway, increase safe haven beds and stabilization beds. The plan also calls for the expansion of supportive housing.

Adams told the Amsterdam News that many people dealing with mental health illness on the street, “don’t even realize they are homeless. They have normalized living on the streets, begging for money, living in the subway system and parks.” He noted that sometimes when offered an alternative way of housing, “you have some people who become extremely agitated, and in some cases violent, when you try and take them out of what they consider to be their norm.”

Detailing part of his subway crime solution, Adams said, “What we must do is approach it in a very real way. We have to try using the Kendra’s Law better for those who need to be on medication; we have to compel them to do so. We need to look at psychiatric facilities and we are really moved away from that. A lot of the advocates feel that it is inhumane to put people into psychiatric facilities when they are a danger to themselves. But, I think it is inhumane to have people sleeping on the streets.

“We need to look into successful organizations like Fountain House…I think if we focus more on building trust, and it’s not one day going out there. It is going out there every other day giving people food, socks, coats…and building trust so we can talk them off the streets.”

As New Yorkers are confronted with the burgeoning issue of homeless fellow New Yorkers in every walk of life on a daily basis, the mayor said he wants to meet the crisis with a compassionate approach.

“There must be trust to get the people the wraparound services that are available for them. And people don’t trust now.”

However, while getting subway and street homelessness away from New Yorkers, a new crop could emerge in its place. On Wednesday, New York Comptroller Brad Lander, New York City Council Member Pierina Sanchez, The Legal Aid Society and other housing advocates held a news conference at 2265 University Ave. in the Bronx to call on state government to pass “Good Cause” legislation that would give tenants in unregulated units the basic protections needed to avoid “unwarranted” evictions and rent increases.

The rally comes after news of private equity firms buying up buildings and filing post-moratorium evictions.

As he celebrated his role in the sold-out success of the virtual play, “Addressless—A Walk in Our Shoes,” advocate for the homeless Shams DaBaron said, “As a formerly homeless New Yorker, I support this plan and I’m going to work with the administration to make sure it’s successful and implemented in a humane way.” DaBaron is one of the 60-plus men forced to leave the Upper West Side Lucerne hotel last year.

DaBaron, who is also known as Da Homeless Hero, is an experience-informed activist for the unhoused.

“I’m glad to see the mayor is adding 500 safe haven and stabilization beds, which will give people more privacy and dignity than congregate shelters. But I’ll be trying to get more of these beds because current figures indicate we need at least 2,000. Most people choose to sleep on the subway because they feel safer there than in congregate shelters which I call death traps so it’s great to see we now have a mayor who understands the value of housing first and is committed to housing over shelters…I’m glad to see that mental health workers and peer specialists will be on the outreach teams in subway stations. The issues that we are encountering are very complex and the result of long term systemic issues that have not been addressed up until now.”

Sounding optimistic, DaBaron added, “I applaud Mayor Adams for having the ability to see a need to fix these broken systems, and the fact that he has invited me to have a seat at the table is a serious win for all homeless New Yorkers, in that he’s looking to hear from and have the input of directly impacted people who know the issues. I look forward to working with the administration and all stakeholders to make sure the plan works and ultimately leads to permanent homes for my homeless brothers and sisters. Housing is the only way to end homelessness.”

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