When Mayor Bloomberg two weeks ago announced that there aren’t very many panhandlers left in the subway, he drew the ire of, well, most straphangers and homeless advocates across New York. Panhandling, as anyone who rides the subway knows, is alive and well underground. Beggars, musicians, kids selling candy: you name it, and it’s there. Yesterday, though, MTA head Jay Walder tried to clarify Bloomberg’s comments, and his point is a valid one.
While speaking with reporters after yesterday’s MTA Board, Walder addressed panhandling. He noted that “panhandlers are certainly something that you do see in the system” but allowed for a decrease in numbers lately. “When you compare the situations that you see in the subway today with the situations that some of us will remember from a number of years ago, I think the conditions in the subway today are very, very different,” he said. “I think the N.Y.P.D. has done an excellent job at being able to control and try to deal with this. I would not say that it has been eliminated; I think that is certainly not the case. But I don’t think equally that you can compare what we see today to what you might have seen 30 years ago on the subway.”
It’s tough to deny that panhandling and the presence of homeless people in the subway is has decreased lately, but it’s certainly a problem. Homeless people living in stations create unsafe conditions, and panhandlers of varying degree are a near-daily sight in the subway. As the system is open, cheap and warm, those without reliable shelters will continue to seek safety and change underground. Until the city provides better options, panhandling will be a fact of life underground no matter what the mayor says.