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How New York officials plan to tackle homelessness on the city’s subway system

People ride the subway in New York City on Friday, January 28, 2022.  Ted Shaffrey/ AP

Story at a glance

  • New York is trying to combat violence and homelessness that’s created a dangerous environment in the city’s subway system.
  • City and state officials are deploying a massive effort to help those suffering from mental illness and homelessness, so they can be housed and given appropriate support services.
  • The moves come after a 40-year-old woman recently died after she was pushed on the tracks of an oncoming subway car.

New York City is rolling its sleeves up to try to make its subway system safer, as the city has seen a rise in violence and homelessness creating a dangerous environment for residents taking public transportation. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams alongside New York state governor Kathy Hochul presented a subway safety plan Friday that aims to address safety issues, specifically in the wake of “painful humanitarian challenge playing out right in front of our eyes.” 

That’s in reference to a recent attack on a 40-year-old Asian women who was killed after being pushed onto tracks before an oncoming subway train. The suspect is a man believed to have been homeless. 

Hate crimes have drastically increased in recent years, with data from the Justice Department finding 62 percent of hate crime victims were targeted because of the offenders’ bias toward race/ ethnicity/ ancestry in 2020. Anti-Black and anti-Asian hate crimes continue to be the largest bias incident victim category.  

That comes as the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness estimates that as of January 2020, New York state had about 91,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given day.  


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Now, the city’s top leadership is hoping to curb the violence by instituting a multi-pronged system that begins with outreach, through 30 inter-agency response teams made up of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and community-based providers, in “high-need” locations across the city. 

“You can’t put a band-aid on a cancerous sore. That is not how you solve the problem. You must remove the cancer to start the healing process,” said Adams in a press conference announcing the new subway safety plan.  

Those teams will work with NYPD to canvas subway platforms, stairwells, mezzanines and entrances. They will attempt to execute interventions with individuals who appear to be homeless, like someone sleeping on a train car, or people breaking transit rules. They’ll be required to seek alternative shelter and officials will help transport them there. 

Another aspect to the new subway safety plan includes an increase in NYPD presence and enforcement of rules and conduct. More than 1,000 additional officers have already been deployed across New York City’s transportation system, and now they have a “clear mandate” to enforce rules like, no lying down or sleeping in a way that takes up more than one seat per passenger on a subway car or interferes with passengers. 

Individuals will also be prohibited from creating an unsanitary environment, like spitting or littering, or from exhibiting aggressive behavior towards other passengers. Smoking or open drug use is also not allowed. 

The city estimates there are nearly 300,000 New Yorkers with severe mental illness and to address that, officials are expanding services within multiple agencies to reach those experiencing homelessness or severe mental illness.  

Teams that handle non-violent 911 mental health calls will be expanded, with additional staff to be trained and deployed in the next three to six months. The city is also increasing availability of 140 safe haven beds, a form of supportive housing specifically for homeless persons with severe mental illness that have been unable or unwilling to participate in supportive services.   

An additional 350 stabilization beds will also be added, which are low-threshold private rented rooms for people experiencing long-term unsheltered homelessness.  

City officials acknowledged that the issues plaguing the subway system and the broader homeless crisis will not be solved overnight, but they hope to initiate change that will, “protect every person who walks down into our subways, and we will truly see our fellow New Yorkers who are struggling and get them the help they need,” said the subway safety plan report. 

New York City is far from alone in trying to address its homeless residents, with Seattle receiving $10 million for its program to end homeless in downtown. California has also implemented Project Homekey, a $12 billion initiative launched that aims to create permanent housing in apartment buildings and hotels for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. 


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