Cuomo Calls Homeless Problem On NYC Subways 'Unacceptable,' Demands Action

New York City subway
Photo credit Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls the current state of New York City's subways "disgusting" and "unacceptable" as the city and MTA go back-and-forth over the issue of homeless people sleeping on trains during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with WCBS 880 on Tuesday afternoon, the governor said there's no excuse for having dirty trains filled with garbage and homeless people, adding that it's disrespectful to MTA and other essential workers trying to avoid infection.

"It can't go on and the MTA has to take dramatic action and they have to take it now," Cuomo said. "We have the subways open so our essential workers can get to work, and these are the heroes of today, and we owe them more than this."

Cuomo has committed to help solve the issue, but said he'll need the MTA to tell him what they need.

"Whatever they need just let them tell me and I will get it done, but they need to tell me what has to be done so I can feel comfortable that every New Yorker who gets on that train knows they're getting on a clean disinfected train and we're actually helping the homeless, you're not doing anyone a favor letting them sleep on a subway car in the middle of a public health crisis," Cuomo said.

In an editorial published in the New York Post, Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg says it's undeniable that there are increased numbers of homeless riding the subways and, as she put it, "City Hall has seemingly decided that so long as homelessness happens underground, solving it is not their priority."

Feinberg said homeless people have sought shelter in the subway system for years and the coronavirus pandemic has only intensified the problem.

"The MTA workforce shouldn't have to clean up trash, personal belongings, soiled items, drug paraphernalia, excrement and bodily fluids," Feinberg wrote. "Our customers shouldn't have to board a car that has multiple people using it as a shelter and as a trash receptacle or toilet. And the essential front-line personnel working to keep this city safe shouldn't have to encounter panhandling and trash or threats on their already-stressful commutes."

Cuomo tells WCBS 880 he doesn't want to point fingers, he just wants the problem fixed.

"We're in a very impossible situation, I just want to know how to fix it, and I will fix it, and they have to tell me what they need to fix it," Cuomo said. "Just tell me what you need.We're getting through this, we're getting through this together, just tell the governor what you need and I'll get it done."

In an interview with WCBS 880, Feinberg said after many weeks the city finally answered the call on Monday with NYPD officers and social workers out in force at one station, but they need to step up and do more.

"It was a huge help. They helped move the homeless and those who needed assistance off of trains, some folks took up offers of shelter, others took up offers of other social services, but what I need is for them to be in all of the end-of-line stations. so one station last night was great, but I need them in the other 40 as well," Feinberg said. "I need them in all of those stations, I need the NYPD officers and the social workers in all of those end-of-line stations by the end of the week. If they can't do it, I need to be able to go hire more MTA Police to get this done."

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the MTA said has had to hire private security guards to patrol the system.

"The Mayor should get out of his car and into the subways so he can see what is really going on and solve the problem of his own making," the statement read. "Our mass transit system is the lifeblood of New York City and it has never been more important."

During his news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded the MTA close 10 end-of-the-line stations between 12 a.m. and 5.a.m. every night to deep clean and clear the homeless off the trains and out of the stations. He made the proposal days after he claimed the city was in control of the situation.

"We'll do our share, we'll devout the police resources, we'll devout the outreach workers, we'll do whatever it takes, but we need the MTA to agree to this plan. It's a common sense plan," de Blasio said."We all know for decades there have been homeless people in the subways going from one end of a line back again all night long that needs to stop. The way to stop that is to support those people and help them come in and accept housing but also to disrupt the pattern."

De Blasio calls the plan a "game changer" and says the MTA just needs to say "yes."

Feinberg said if closing all end-of-line stations on a nightly basis solves the problem, she's for it.

"In my experience, that's not actually what solves the problem, and sometimes you end up with some unintended consequences," Feinberg said.

Feinberg said she's focused on creating a safe and efficient transportation system for essential workers during the crisis and looking ahead to prepare for the reopening of the transit system by expanding cleaning efforts on train cars and stations and getting crews back on the job to meet ridership demand as it eventually returns to normal levels.

Earlier, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told WCBS 880 that he is troubled by pictures of homeless on the trains and says police have been taking action.

"We eject people on a daily basis, and we don't eject people because they're homeless... it's for rules violations. Being homeless, being down and out, being in need of help is not what the NYPD is gonna start targeting people for. What we are targeting people for is helping people," Shea said, adding that the NYPD has officers that are ex-social workers trying to connect homeless people with services and, in some cases, hospitals.

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