‘They choose the street’: NYPD homeless outreach on subways under scrutiny by City Council

Photo by Mark Hallum

A joint committee in the City Council examined NYPD’s homeless diversion program in the subways, which to advocates represents a policy that fines the city’s poorest.

The city Department of Social Services and NYPD had representation in chamber who were questioned by members of both the committees on General Welfare as well as Public Safety.

Policing of individuals sleeping in the subway system often follow policies in which they are fined if they refuse homeless services and often arrested for failure to comply with laws the prohibit riders from occupying more than one seat.

“People who choose the street over the shelter know what the shelter has to offer, and they choose the street,” Councilman Donovan Richards said. “I don’t blame you trying to help this situation. I will blame you if what you’re trying only serves to harass people.”

NYPD Chief of Transit Edward Delatorre said he did not agree with aspects of police outreach that lands people in the criminal justice system, but that there are merits to the effort which sees some homeless individuals to finding the resources intended to help them get back on their feet, such as Bowery Residents’ Committee.

The civil summonses that are issued to homeless individuals in the Subway Diversion Program is the “lightest touch,” Delatorre told City Council members.

“We’re evolving here and we’re looking for more and more ways,” Deletorre said explaining that NYPD has created in roads with the courts to have warrants expunged so people can obtain services.

Delatorre told City Council outreach at the terminus of the E line has been better facilitated by using New York City Transit station space to offer coffee to homeless people.

Molly Park, first deputy commissioner of DHS, said it often requires “hundreds” of times for outreach to stick with one individual, something homeless individuals themselves explained in rally prior to the hearing.

Richard Hobbs, who is homeless, said shelters are perilous. Stabbings and muggings are common, but he often sleeps in Penn Station where being hassled by the police is at least tolerable.

Hobbs told amNewYork Metro that while he has been mugged attempting to deposit $20 into an ATM, police in Penn Station will wake homeless individuals every two hours and ignore complaints of actual crimes if those reporting them look homeless.

The rally hosted by Coalition for the Homeless pressured the de Blasio administration to end what Councilman Stephen Levin called a “dumb policy” to took the only alternative to a shelter away from homeless individuals during the colder months.

Levin, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson delivered impassioned remarks calling on NYPD and DHS to end outreach program claiming that cops do not have the training help address the homeless crisis.

Karim Walker said that since April, as long as he has been on the streets, his encounters with police has led to arrest for sleeping on the subways.

Legislators stressed that a summons for sleeping on the train was discriminatory in that citations for taking up too much space on a bench is never deployed to “manspreaders” or people who set bags down next to them. Councilman Carlos Menchaca argued that he would never be summonsed for sleeping on the subway by virtue of his appearance.

Park echoed activists who called for more affordable housing through housing supplements when she offered addressing the housing shortage as a homelessness solution.

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