NYC Homeless seek an elusive safe refuge in the subways

The City logo
Ramon Rosa stays at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn for safety. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

BY BEN FRACTENBERG, GABRIEL SANDOVAL AND JOSE MARTINEZ, THE CITY | This story was first published on Oct. 8 by THE CITY. The beating deaths of four homeless men sleeping on the streets of Chinatown early Saturday shocked the city.

But for some New Yorkers without a permanent home, the killings confirmed an unease that has them avoiding city streets and shelters overnight, afraid for their safety.

Many find refuge in the subways. But life underground is getting tougher.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans to hire 500 new MTA cops to deal with various issues. Meanwhile, as THE CITY reported last week, the NYPD is now using surveillance cameras to keep tabs on the homeless in a dozen stations.

Against this backdrop, THE CITY spoke with some people who regularly seek shelter in the subway system. Here’s what they told us:


Joseph Brown seeks shelter in the Times Square station on Monday. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

Word about the killings of the four men didn’t reach Joseph Brown until Monday.

When the news spread Sunday, Brown was busy dealing with the loss of clothing he said was stolen while he was sleeping.

“Now I’ve got to start all over again,” said Brown, 52, who tugged a suitcase and a shopping cart at the 42nd St.-Port Authority station.

He doesn’t like shelters. And won’t sleep on sidewalks, like the men who lost their lives Saturday.

“That’s unsafe,” Brown said. “I go on the train. That’s my safe haven.”

Still, he added: “The subway is dangerous, too.”


Donna Moody-Scott has been staying in Penn Station for 25 years. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

Donna Moody-Scott, who said she’s been homeless for 35 years, noted it took her a decade to stop worrying about being hassled by cops. As she put it, she learned to say “the hell with the police.”

She said she’s been staying in Penn Station on and off for a quarter-century. The 60-year-old won’t go to a shelter, saying she’s through being harassed by homeless men and shelter workers.

“They say they want to protect you, but you can be raped in the shelter,” Moody-Scott said.


Peter Johnson is able to access Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

Peter Johnson sometimes stays at the Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center station. That’s because the elevator there can accommodate his wheelchair.

Johnson, 58, said he’d been living at an accessible shelter in Greenpoint, but left for safety reasons.

“They’re always stealing and robbing people,” said Johnson, a former kitchen worker. “They robbed me three times in there — took two cell phones and a pair of shoes.”


Gavin Darden says he shifts between staying on the street and subways. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

Gavin Darden sat on a platform bench at the Forest Hills-71st Avenue station in Queens, wearing tattered shoes and keeping a large suitcase close to him. “Just some toiletries,” he explained.

Darden, 32, said he split his time between the streets and the subways: “I just come down here to watch people, to walk around, to ride the trains.”

He won’t go to city shelters.

“I don’t need any help down here,” Darden said.


Trillion Star says he has been battling homelessness for nine years. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY)

A man who goes by “Trillion Star” said he’s had mixed dealings with the police.

But he said he appreciates the kindness of some officers he’s met after falling asleep on the train and winding up at the end of the line.

“They just want to know if they can get me a coffee, something hot,” he said. “Because it’s cold out there sometimes.”

The 38-year-old Queens native said he “couldn’t even dream” he’d ever be without a home. But after nine years, he’s got his subway routine down.

“I like to be off the street at night,” he said.


Carl Robinson says he’s been homeless in New York since 1985. (Photo: Gabriel Sandoval /THE CITY)

Carl Robinson was glad to share his observations from a platform bench at the 34th Street-Herald Square station, but not his age. The burly, bearded man, who uses a cane, said he didn’t want to deal with any “age discrimination.”

Robinson, who noted he’s been without a home since 1985, said homeless people became “public enemy No. 1” during former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration.

While he prefers the trains to the street or shelters, “No place is safe in the world anymore.”

Robinson said there’s “a very simple solution” to homelessness.

“It’s called a home,” he said. “It’s just a home, nothing complicated.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.