NYC Subway-to-Shelter Plan

As a dozen social workers flooded the South Ferry station at the end of the No. 1 line shortly after midnight Thursday, city Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins urged the staff to treat everyone they encounter with “dignity and respect.” Story from Daily News by Clayton Guse. May 20.

Jenkins, [an MEA member and], a lifelong New Yorker who lived in a Brooklyn homeless shelter as a child — said that soft touch is key as the city takes a fresh approach to make good on Mayor Adams’ goal of pushing homeless people out of the city’s subway system.

Social workers transported 12 people to homeless shelters over the course of the overnight operation at South Ferry. They offered help to another 90 people who appeared destitute.

A group of cops were also on hand. In some cases, the officers removed people from the station when they refused services from outreach workers.

With the police and social workers were nurses from the city Department of Health, who are assigned to the outreach teams to diagnose whether erratic homeless people are a potential harm to themselves or others — in which case they’d be forced into care.

This same outreach has happened every night at three or four end-of-line subway stations since Feb. 21, when Adams launched his “Subway Safety Plan.” Officials said it’s a different strategy than was used to tackle subway homelessness under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Outreach workers from the Bowery Residents Committee — a nonprofit contracted by the city to do homeless outreach on the subways — no longer transport homeless people from the subways to shelters. Those rides are instead handled by the company Citi Care. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority also plans to hire a contractor to transport homeless people from stations.

That leaves Bowery Resident Committee workers more time to offer services to homeless people, said the non-profit’s CEO Muzzy Rosenblatt.

Rosenblatt also pointed to a policy shift under Adams that reduced the requirements for homeless people to get more comfortable, private beds instead of dormitory-style shelters. Officials this year nixed a rule that forced people to have a documented record of homelessness for at least nine months to get one of those “safe haven” or “stabilization” beds.

“Before, people were being coerced into shelter,” said Rosenblatt. “Now what the cops are saying is, ‘Look you can’t sleep on the train, you’re breaking the rules. But we’re not going to summons you. We have these people to help you.’”

City officials said more than 700 people have been transported from end-of-line stations to shelters during the first two months of the initiative, up from 216 people taken from the subways to shelters from the start of December to the end of January.

Data shows more homeless people are now taken from the subways to shelters than from May 2020 to May 2021, when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed the system overnight to force homeless people off the trains. During that period, city officials said 2,596 homeless people were taken from the subways to the shelters, a rate of about 216 per month.

“The pandemic and the shutdown of the subways created a pressure and created an opportunity to make the way we serve people better,” said Rosenblatt. “The level of collaboration between the city and the state is particularly given our former mayor and our former governor is like 180 degrees.”

“It’s not just about getting people off the subways. It’s about getting them in the right place, which means accessing mental health services services, which are very much a state responsibility.”

Some homeless advocates think Adams’ push to remove homeless people from the subways is misdirected — and want the mayor to provide more opportunities for permanent housing to those who go into shelters.

“To reduce homelessness, the city should focus investments on permanent housing, safe shelters, and voluntary mental health care,” said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.

Jenkins pointed to the mayor’s proposal to invest $500 million annually in affordable and supportive housing over the next decade. The commissioner said he’s working to simplify the application process for such programs.

“We have to interact with our homeless individuals and really give the dignity that they deserve,” said Jenkins. “We’re doing things differently in this administration.”