As confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise, there's one issue that continues to go unresolved in New York City and that's homelessness.
New York City at one point became the epicenter for COVID-19. With over 270,000 confirmed cases and 16,000 deaths throughout the state, city officials can't seem to get ahead of the homelessness problem plaguing the transit system.
A video (in what is believed to be a transit worker) posted online shows how many homeless people are sleeping on subway cars during the daily commute. The man walks through about eight train cars and counts how many homeless people are sleeping on the trains. This has become an issue during the pandemic due to decreased train service. As a result, trains have become overpacked and preventing social distancing as recommended by health care professionals.
Jamel Thompson, an MTA train conductor described the current state of the situation to CBS New York stating, "The Metropolitan Transit Authority is now the Metropolitan Transmission Authority" explaining that the homeless people riding the train are transporting the virus. Video by New York City residents and local media continues to surface illustrating the problem with no immediate solution.
It has turned into a bit of the blame game among city leaders when addressing the issue. New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg acknowledged the issue stating that the current state of the subways is not only impacting space and service to essential workers during this period but represents a government default on the part of the de Blasio administration. During a press conference, Feinberg was quoted as saying “We are frustrated by the ongoing issue of the number of – which feels like an increasing number – the homeless population in the system. At any given moment it makes for an experience on the system that is problematic for our ridership and at this moment it is not appropriate given the nature of the folks that we are carrying,” Feinberg said, referring to essential workers. “To the extent which we have individuals whose belongings are taking up space or are laid out or sleeping, that impacts the space that essential workers have.” Feinberg also went on to say that she is "losing patience" regarding the ongoing problem.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio snapped back at the comments made by Feinberg this week. During a press conference, he denied that subway homelessness is out of control and addressed her comments about "losing patience." "If she's losing patience, I don't know why she hasn't called me" stated de Blasio. He went on to say “This reality of homelessness in general, homelessness on the subways has been with us for decades,” stated de Blasio. “You can’t just take someone and arrest them because they’re homeless and that’s not what New York would want and it’s not legal." He continued with “We can work to get them in, but we don’t have the magical ability to just force everyone in.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may deny that homelessness in New York City is out of control, but the comments made by Feinberg echoes the concerns of transit workers and commuters who ride the trains every day. With growing concerns over the virus, poor people and essential workers cannot afford to stay home from work which as a result heightens the risk of exposure and if the homeless are refusing service that is being offered to them by the city, then this is an issue that will never go away.
By: Jay Denson