“It’s not just a police problem, so we went out to get some help, and we got the MTA to come,” Telfer told the council. “One of the things that Christie and [the MTA] do is they provide the resources that we don’t have.”
Hofmann, who introduced herself as superintendent of Homeless Services for the MTA, said while she was under no illusions that the problem of vagrancy could be solved in one day, she and her colleagues were working on plans to deal with the problem.
“We’re going to be working with the NYPD, we’re going to address the homeless issues,” Hofmann said. “We are aware of the issues and we’ll be setting up some joint ops in the very near future.”
Telfer interjected to add, “Actually there’s one we’re doing this week.”
Telfer then outlined a plan involving assessment of people found in the trains, with plans to escort them to hospitals and shelters.
“There’ll be an EMS to assess do they go to the hospital, then our people will try to place them in a shelter if they’ve never been in a shelter,” Telfer said. “It’s going to be a really comprehensive effort.”
An officer in plain clothes among those to join Telfer in front of the council chimed in to say, “We want to put them somewhere. If we throw them out, they’re just going to come right back.”
The officer then said, “If you see them, don’t give them money,” to which Telfer added, “They’re very comfortable. Compared to every other borough, out here [in Queens] is the worst.”
MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz clarified that the MTA has been running a subway car-cleaning program for quite some time. But the current protocol of the MTA upon engagement of homeless individuals found on subway cars is to ask if they would like assistance, he explained, emphasizing that the program does not involve forced removal of individuals from the subway system.
“This is a program that’s been in place for two decades in terms of the outreach that we do with the homeless,” Ortiz explained. “We do not kick people out of the subway.”
Ortiz clarified that the MTA does not, and never has kicked homeless people out of the subway, and that it has a contract with the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC) to provide homeless outreach services to individuals who request them upon approach.
The BRC was recently infused with $6 million in funding, allowing the organization to triple its staff and begin operating a more comprehensive outreach effort in all 468 NYC subway stations, not just the end-of-line stations that serve as a base station for the usual suspects.
According to the plan, BRC staffers will visit each subway station at least once every two weeks, with stations known for being common shelters to be visited several times per week.
While the Hope NYC Street Survey – an annual tally of the number of homeless individuals living in New York City – shows that the number of homeless individuals living in the subway fluctuates greatly from year to year, the number of individuals found living in the subways has grown steadily, and now almost doubled, since 2009.