MTA doling out big bucks to get homeless out of subways

By · Published in 2007

A homeless man sleeps as the uptown 2 leaves 72nd St. This is becoming a common sight on late-nite trains. (Courtesy of flickr user slice_of_danny)

I boarded a downtown 2 train at 96th St. on Saturday night around 11:45 p.m. and encountered a familiar scene. As the car doors slid open and the automated voices loudly announced the stop, I noticed that the car was completely deserted except for one guy.

“Uh, oh,” I thought to myself. “That’s trouble.”

Certainly enough, as the doors slide closed, I got a good whiff of the car, and it was not pretty. Breaking the law, I moved between train cars and found olfactory relief. I wish I could say this incident was a rare occurrence, but more and more, I’m noticing it’s an every-weekend event. Ride the subway late enough, and you’ll see the tell-tale signs. Crowded cars surrounding an empty car while the guy with no shoes sleeps sprawled across three seats in that empty car.

This problem isn’t limited to the trains either. As it’s incredibly hard to sleep with some guy yelling at you to “Stand clear of the closing doors please” every five minutes, many residents of the subway have taken to sleeping in stations. Forgotten corners house homeless people, and the 2nd Ave. stop at Houston Street is a breeding ground for unsavory smells.

Many of us straphangers don’t believe the MTA ever does anything about that Stinky Guy in the next car. No one wakes him up or makes him leave the trains. But, as The New York Sun reports, the MTA is actually trying to do something about the homeless problem but at a huge cost to the cash-strapped Authority.

The MTA this year renewed its $1.5 million contract with the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a nonprofit social service provider, to fund the program for outreach workers to visit subway stations and try to convince homeless people to accept escorts to city-run shelters or detox centers…

The outreach program carried out 875 escorts last year, according to statistics provided by the MTA. Outreach workers estimated that they were re-escorting the same homeless people back to the shelters from subway stations about 25% of the time. “It’s a tough sell,” the program director, Robert Rumore, said. “The largest portion of people we escort is back out again.”

The article from Monday’s Sun details a program that is hardly the definition of success. Groups of homeless people living together in the subway exert pressure on each other to ignore the entreaties of outreach workers who are facing an uphill battle against people suffering from psychological disorders or chemical dependency issues. Furthermore, while 22 workers patrol the 660-mile subway system, no one works on weekend nights when the problem seems to be at its worst.

Meanwhile, because many of these homeless people earn money for food by panhandling in the subways, they are loathe to leave the warmth and shelter provided by the roof of the train.

The police, too, are handicapped. Arrests are meaningless for homeless people, and they, more often than not, return to the subway after being released. While the NYPD’s Homeless Outreach Squad claims some measure of success in reducing the number of homeless subway dwellers down to just under 1000, it may simply be impossible to find a solution in which 100 percent of the subway system is homeless-free.

While I wholeheartedly support the social benefits of homeless outreach projects in the subway, I am left wondering at the cost to the system. According to The Sun, this project costs $2000 per homeless person removed, and even then, at least a quarter of the 875 folks taken out of the train system head right back in.

Is the solution a return to the draconian Giuliani-era programs of arrest and incarceration? I don’t think so. But an increased presence of authority figures could do wonders for the problem of Stinky Homeless Guy in A Train Car Syndrome that so plagues the New York City subways.

Categories : MTA Economics

2 Responses to “MTA doling out big bucks to get homeless out of subways”

  1. jackie says:

    You make some good points about the futility of either the carrot or the stick. Maybe there isn’t anything to do other than to live with it as best we can and scream at the MTA if it gets unbearable.


  1. […] of New York City came to our collective consciousness when reports revealed that the MTA spends $2000 per homeless person. At the time, the MTA noted that many of the homeless people escorted out of the subway simply […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>