Today’s Read: New York City Plans to Stop Homeless People From Sheltering in Subway

On February 18, 2022, Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced a plan to remove people who shelter in the subway system, including stricter enforcement of transit system rules and a zero-tolerance policy for sleeping on the trains.

But, as the Coalition’s View From the Street report found, people only stay on the subway because they have no better place to go, and increased policing will push people further away from services.

Outreach is not meaningful without housing and services tied to it. However, the Mayor’s plan only briefly acknowledges the need to add low-barrier shelters, streamline the process for accessing supportive housing, and expand mental health services – and instead emphasizes aggressive police enforcement and involuntary mental health treatment.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Andy Newman, Dana Rubinstein, and Michael Gold highlighted some of the plan’s flaws:

“…the plan announced on Friday lacked some details and timelines, and given the chronic shortage of housing options that are palatable and affordable to most people who choose to live in the subway, it was unclear where those evicted en masse would immediately go, if not the streets. There was little discussion of the plan’s cost or how it would be paid.”

Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, said the plan would criminalize mental illness and homelessness. In a statement, she called for ready access to voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, including medication, individual hotel rooms for unsheltered individuals, and at least 1,000 immediate low-barrier subsidized permanent housing placements paired with mobile mental health teams.

While there have been recent high-profile crimes in the subway, we cannot stigmatize all homeless New Yorkers or rely on criminalization and policing strategies to address a housing and mental health crisis. The article aptly points out:

“Even as Mr. Adams acknowledged that ‘the vast majority of the unhoused and the mentally ill are not dangerous’ to subway riders, his plan to evict those people from the transit system does not make such a distinction.”

Read the article here and our full statement here.