Advocates Urge Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to Address Root Causes of Homelessness in the Transit System

Coalition for the Homeless,, and Riders Alliance delivered an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, urging both New York leaders to take decisive action by investing in housing and support services for people who seek shelter in the subway system. The organizations serving homeless New Yorkers and transit riders shared recommendations to address homelessness in the subways through investments in housing and safe shelters, rather than relying on a surge in police. As the letter states, “Housing is the answer to homelessness, and it is essential that the State and City address the root causes of this crisis in order to reduce the number of our neighbors who resort to sleeping in the transit system.”

The letter urges Governor Cuomo to take the following actions:

  1. Reopen the subways 24/7
  2. Pass Home Stability Support and the Housing Access Voucher Program to help people obtain and retain stable housing
  3. Accelerate the supportive housing pipeline and fully fund the remaining 14,000 units of the Governor’s 20,000-unit commitment
  4. Invest in more voluntary mental health care, not involuntary measures

And the letter urges Mayor de Blasio to:

  1. Expand the successful stabilization bed program and offer every unsheltered New Yorker a single-occupancy hotel room for the duration of the pandemic
  2. Pass Intro 146 to bring the CityFHEPS voucher up to Section 8 levels
  3. Expand the City’s supportive housing capacity and adopt a true Housing First model
  4. Hire peer outreach workers

Expanding housing resources and voluntary mental health care are crucial policy measures that will help New Yorkers deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the trauma that comes with it, in the midst of a crisis that has shown that housing is health care.

“Both prior to and during the life-threatening pandemic, New York’s homelessness policies have been plagued by false starts, deliberate under-funding of local needs, and heavy-handed policing with far too little investment in the solutions proven to work. Access to housing and community-based mental health care for those with the most serious mental illnesses has been abysmal in recent years. It is crucial that we do all we can to protect those dealing with homelessness and mental health issues by ensuring access to expert care and housing,” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy at Coalition for the Homeless.


“Subway homelessness continues to be met with policies that are not only cruel, but also counterproductive,” said Josh Dean, Executive Director of “When Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio send the NYPD to target homeless New Yorkers and agree to shut down the subways, they aren’t addressing homelessness. Rather, they are simply moving it from the subways to the streets. The Governor and the Mayor have the resources to house all homeless New Yorkers. We’re calling on them to do the right thing, and meet this crisis with compassion, consideration, and housing.”


“Transit riders need our leaders to tackle subway homelessness as a facet of the housing crisis it’s a part of,” said Danny Pearlstein, Policy & Communications Director of Riders Alliance. “The governor runs the MTA but he’s also the governor of the whole state, responsible for addressing all of our pressing problems. No one wants to live on the subway, but until the State invests in safe and private, humane and sustainable options, New Yorkers will be forced to continue living in public space. The governor should marshal sufficient State resources to actually solve the housing problems facing people who resort to sleeping on the subway.”

The letter requests that City and State officials increase access to housing and implement adequate mental health systems and outreach to ensure those who are homeless have the resources to move out of the subways and into homes of their own.