Congressman Thomas Suozzi decried the literal trail of blood that has stemmed from Penn Station throughout 2021.
Long Island/Queens representative and gubernatorial hopeful Suozzi pulled very few punches at a press conference inside the mass transportation hub on Dec. 29. Standing near the LIRR tracks 13 and 14 alongside station advocates Thursday, the elected fumed over the issues of homelessness and violence in and around the intercity terminal. Suozzi leveled resolute blame at both the MTA and the city as a whole for what he feels is the sorry state of the station.
“I’ve been coming in and out of the city my entire life. It’s never been this bad. I came here the other day. I personally was scared. I know people that say they will not come into the city for dinner or for a show because they’re scared to come,” Suozzi said, adding, “It’s not an easy solution to do. But the first thing you have to do is recognize there’s a problem here. There’s a very big problem that exists at Penn Station. It manifests itself not just by walking around and seeing what’s going on here. But it’s manifested in the customer survey where 21,800 people said the biggest problem we face right now is crime and homelessness.”
Citing aggressive panhandlers, blatant, daylight drug use, unconscious homeless individuals, and mental health issues as prime factors for the increased levels of violent crime, Suozzi declared that the city does not have to choose between compassion for the unhoused and a safe Penn Station. In his mind both are attainable.
“It’s a false choice between trying to help the homeless and provide for public safety. You can do both. It requires executive leadership and management and people to pay attention and develop a comprehensive plan to deal with those issues,” Suozzi said, sharing that he is also calling upon Mayor-elect Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul to sit down and address the situation while also asking for a social services plan that works in conjunction with law enforcement.
Gerard Bringmann, LIRR Commuter Council President and member of the MTA board, agreed with Suozzi that Penn Station has become a sleeping ground for many unhoused individuals, which he believes is due to deficiencies in contracted homeless services who are not for fulfilling their commitments.
“We’ve spoken to the people at the MTA that handle this situation, they explained to us all the obstacles that they face. One of the obstacles is that the contractor that’s supposed to handle the homeless services has not been up to par doing what they what they’re supposed to be doing,” Bringmann said, adding that the Inspector General for the MTA has been investigating the matter.
“People are not comfortable coming into Penn Station. Some of our commuters actually feel unsafe. We’re trying to get ridership back. We’re at about 50% of our pre pandemic ridership level. We need to get riders back and riders are not going to come back if they don’t feel safe,” Bringmann said.
In addition to the human element, Suozzi also criticized the aging architecture and design, which he says forces commuters dangerously close to the tracks during crowded times like rush hour. This, he hopes, will be rectified upon the implementation of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework since he argues that transportation hubs are one of his main priorities. (Suozzi also shared that he serves as the Vice Chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which helped billions of dollars to be focused on updating New York’s infrastructure.)
The alarm Suozzi is ringing comes less than a month after the congressman officially placed his bid for governor and although he powered through the conference without speaking on himself as the head of state directly, he did appear to be strategically laying the foundation of his platform for 2022 beginning with the transportation hub the connects to Albany.
After the press conference amNewYork Metro observed several unmasked unhoused individuals passed out within the expansive halls of Penn Station, including some who were undergoing wellness checks from NYPD officers.
In response to remarks made by Suozzi and Penn Station advocates, MTA Chief of External Relations John McCarthy applauds their efforts to bring awareness to the situation, even if it comes months after several violent stabbings.
“Though it may come a little late, the MTA is glad that Congressman Suozzi supports fixing Penn Station and has now joined the MTA’s repeated calls for the City of New York to give more attention to policing the area around Penn and to assign more mental health and homeless services professionals to the station. The MTA is nearing completion of a major $500 million expansion of the LIRR Concourse that is raising ceilings, dramatically expanding public spaces and adding entrances. The full-scale modernization Governor Hochul has rolled out will transform Penn into a 21st century showpiece like Grand Central or Moynihan Train Hall. As the Governor has said, we need a Penn Station that serves New Yorkers – LIRR and subway riders, and in a few years Metro-North customers – who are after all the main users of this long-neglected facility,” McCarthy said.
amNewYork Metro also reached out to DSS-DHS for comment and is awaiting a response.