Today’s Read: Among Travelers and Commuters, the Homeless Stop In and Stay

Although the New Yorkers sleeping on trains, in transit hubs and in other public spaces represent a small fraction of the city’s overall homeless population, they are the most visible and constant reminder of the crisis – and the urgent need for solutions. Many of these men and women, particularly those living with severe mental illness, would rather take refuge in train stations and bus terminals than grapple with the often-intimidating, crowded shelters.

Corey Kilgannon wrote in The New York Times about the large numbers of New Yorkers who sleep in transit hubs such as Penn Station, Port Authority and Grand Central. Remarking on the number of homeless people, one chaperone for an out-of-state school group said, “I told the kids, this is part of New York City.”

It’s tragic that homelessness has become synonymous with NYC – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Research has shown that permanent affordable housing with on-site support services is effective in breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness for the most vulnerable people, while saving taxpayer dollars. As the Coalition said in our annual State of the Homeless report, recent commitments by both the City and the State to create thousands of units of supportive housing will finally make a dent in the number of people suffering on our streets and in shelters.

Unfortunately, the final State budget requires that the Governor and the Legislature sign an MOU to release $2 billion in funding for the State’s supportive housing initiative and broader affordable housing plan. With thousands of New Yorkers desperate for the dignity and stability of a permanent home, it is imperative that leaders in Albany take immediate action on the MOU and work toward creating new supportive housing units this year.

The New York Times explains:

New York City officials say about 58,000 people are living in shelters, and that an estimated 3,000 sleep on the streets or in the subways every night. The city does not have jurisdiction over the transit hubs, but officials from the Department of Homeless Services participate in monthly meetings to discuss the issue with the transportation agencies that run the terminals, their law enforcement officials and homeless advocates.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made tackling homelessness a top priority, improving security at shelters, expanding outreach to those living on the street and moving to increase transitional housing.

Michael Polenberg, vice president for government affairs at Safe Horizon, a group that works with homeless youths, said the city’s transit terminals have become shelters out of necessity.

“There aren’t a whole lot of options available,” Mr. Polenberg said, adding that the plan to open more supportive housing could help ease the problem.