Hundreds of people living in the subway have left the system in the past year, even as homelessness has risen citywide, data shows.
Almost 670 people have moved out of the transit system since July 2014, according to the Department of Homeless Services. Of the approximately 600 chronically homeless people that the agency tracks, only 158 remain in the subway system.
“That’s a very important part of the conditions in our subway,” said Chief Joseph Fox, who heads the NYPD’s Transit Bureau.
“Because we’re doing more operations with outreach in the field, we’re making less arrests and more people are taking services.”
Not all panhandlers are homeless, but the NYPD says it has seen a drop in the number of people asking for money.
Arrests of begging riders have fallen 52.2 % — from 578 at this point last year to 276 so far this year. Summonses for panhandling and asking for MetroCard swipes have also dropped.
Panhandler busts are still higher than 2013, when only 128 people were busted by cops.
Penn Station subway musician Jean Matheus, 37, said his trumpet’s been stolen several times by panhandlers, but doesn’t think it’s helpful to arrest them.
“A lot of them have mental illness and are not on their medication,” he said. “They need help, counseling. A lot of people feel sorry for them.”
The NYPD credits the decrease in collars this year with the fewer number of people living in the subway, as well as a focus on quality-of-life violations like panhandling and breakdancing. The DHS said it has tripled its number of outreach workers since starting a new program with the MTA in July last year.
Overall, police have arrested fewer homeless people this year for any offense — 1,327 so far, down 14% from almost 1550 at this point in 2014. Simultaneously, transit cops have doubled their joint operations with the Bowery Resident’s Committee Committee, which provides housing for the homeless.
The 75 officers in the Transit Bureau Homeless Outreach Unit have done more than 700 joint operations with the organization, a 115% boost from the 339 joint operations from the year before. During the operations, two cops provide BRC staffers — typically counselors and social workers — security while they make contact with the homeless and give aid.
More than 85 people have been moved out of the subway this year by the transit cops and the Bowery Resident Committee, up almost half from 58 last year, police said.
A person isn’t considered placed outside of the transit system unless they have stayed in a shelter for at least 30 or 60 days.
The drop in chronically homeless people underground is a significant contrast to what’s going on citywide. In June 2015, there were 58,671 people living in shelters. In January 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, there were 53,615 people in the shelter system, according to city data.
The Coalition for the Homeless says there has been a rise in homelessness, and that people use the subway to cope with both very hot summers and bitter winters. They say the citywide spike in homelessness comes from many factors — but thais primarily due to a dearth of affordable housing.
“There are likely more people living on the streets than the city’s official count and we have seen an increase in the number of men and women sleeping out of doors, in public spaces and taking refuge from the elements on the train,” said Lindsey Davis.
NYPD officials also noted that they have seen a decrease in the number of riders break dancing in subway cars– an offense that can endanger other straphangers.
Cops have collared 185 dancers so far in 2015 — down almost 30% from 264 dancers the year before.
“We’ve created an alternative that we offer to the dancers,” said Fox, noting that police still want to know when and where commuters spot them.
A City Hall pilot project that launched this year gives dancers safer spaces like Battery Park to perform.
“The de Blasio administration has been piloting a program to provide a lawful venue for these dancers to exhibit their talents and entertain, while maintaining order in the subways and preventing rule breaking or activities that endanger or disturb other riders,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the mayor.