Interviews by Jenna Gaudino. Photos by Sue Brisk for The Indypendent.
On Feb. 18, Mayor Eric Adams announced his plan to remove from the subway system unhoused people who regularly sleep there. The strategy came to fruition three days later. Adams claims his approach will reduce violence, unruly behavior, littering and loitering in subway stations.
“No more just doing whatever you want,” Adams said. “Those days are over. Swipe your Metrocard, ride the system, get off at your destination. That’s what this administration is saying.”
At the same time, Adams admitted that, “the vast majority of the unhoused and the mentally ill are not dangerous” though his plan does not outline a solution for the houseless, only additional policing of homelessness. It’s estimated that more than 1,000 people sleep inside subway cars and stations. We spoke with some of them about their experiences and how they think the city government should address homelessness.
“The Mayor is not in this situation. You have to be here to know.
For the past two months, I have had problems with my Social Security check. And I have been trying to make an appointment with my social worker to get my food stamps. But it’s been hard. My only income is with the help of people on the subway. I live in a shelter, but I’m here all day trying to make money. At the shelter, I have a room with a key so no one goes in there. But a security guard stole $800 from me because they have the key, too.
When I’m not in the subway, I sometimes go to McDonald’s to hold the door for people to make money. My life is not good right now. And I’ve been living with HIV and AIDS for 34 years.”
“I am homeless and I sleep on the train. With this new plan, it’s like, what can I do? It’s the law. I have no idea what to do now. I have no plan. I have a voucher for an apartment but I can’t find an apartment, because no one is helping me! I’ve had the voucher for two years.
I’ve been homeless for four years. People don’t care. It’s been terrible for me out here. But everyone is different. Not everyone is bad. I ask for money so that I can stay clean, so I can wash my clothes, so I can eat, so I can shave. This is how I live. I am 52-years-old, and I don’t have much of a job. I have no employment. I have no income. I have no family.
Give us a place to sleep. A better place. Give us hotel rooms or apartments. It’s so hard to find those. Make us buildings and give us the buildings. I know a lot of homeless people don’t like to work, and they’re on drugs. But I don’t do that. I stay clean. But, at the end of the day, I’m hopeful that things will get better for me.”
“I’ve got a lot to say! I have an apartment, but it’s section eight. So it still counts as being homeless.
I’m going to tell you about the other day when I was on the train. I happened to doze off. And sometimes I’m in raggedy clothes. There was this lady that said I was leaning on her child and she said I tried to grab her child. They locked me up for child endangerment. I know people are afraid of homeless people. I was sitting in front of the judge, and the judge was reading, and he goes, ‘Where’s the child endangerment? He dozed off.’ I watched the news last night and the same thing happened. They said the child was kicking and had an attitude. They put him in jail too. But people don’t know what’s going on. When you see officers with guns coming up to you, it kind of escalates the situation.
With the Mayor’s plan, it’s going to be difficult to identify who is homeless and who is not. Who has been sitting around for hours, and who hasn’t. That’s the problem. About 10 years ago, I was with a girl who was heavy on drugs. I mean, I drink my alcohol, but who doesn’t nowadays? I told her not to do drugs in the subway. I don’t like that because that’s why people judge.
If you put a whole bunch of people in one room, what’s going to happen? You’re going to have a fight. The shelters are worse because you’re grouping everyone together. They’re using drugs in there. Then people start stealing. When people are actually trying to get their lives together, people will still steal from them. My ex-wife would get money to go get stoned, but she was around people who were doing the same thing. It’s the people and the environment. And with police officers, it’s like, if you’re here to help me, then why do you have a gun?
I’m going to tell you this, I have a lot of hope. It took me 13 years to get my apartment. But I still sleep on the trains when the shelters get bad. My ex-wife was able to get a job, she provided them with eight pay stubs, and they still didn’t give her the apartment. Where is the help? She followed through, and they still didn’t help her. And that’s the bad part.”
“I’ve been homeless for two months. My family got evicted and there was no space for me. It’s really horrible out here. I’m just trying to survive out here. I don’t have a job. I lost my job because of the eviction process.
Police officers aren’t really trying to help. People are trying to get away from the cold and find a place to sleep. Where are they going to go? I sleep on the 7 Train because it’s quiet. There’s not a lot of people there. But it’s horrible. You see the old people getting woken up in the middle of the night. They don’t treat people nice. Well, some of them do. But most of them are rude. My girlfriend and I were talking about this the other day. There’s got to be a better way. I keep seeing all the old people on the street. Everyone has their own crap to deal with. It’s rough out here, especially for people who have nobody. They’re just fighting alone. At least I’ve got my girl Cynthia. She comes and she brings me food whenever she can.
With this new plan, I don’t see it going the right way. There’s got to be a better way to handle the situation. It’s inhumane to not let people sleep in the subway system. Where are they going to sleep? Instead of spending all this money on cops, why don’t they put it into making another hotel? The funding is all messed up. And not everyone who sleeps in the subways are mentally ill. And just because these people can be a challenge, you’re going to kick everyone out? That’s just going to create another problem. What is with all these extra cops? What do you need a thousand cops for?”
“I read in an article that Adams is going to put extra warming places by the subways and I think they should’ve taken care of that before hiring all these cops. They’re throwing these people to the streets in this cold weather. It’s just inhumane. They hired all these extra cops and they’re throwing them out into the streets.
I live in a shelter. I take whatever food they give me and I give it to him [Ruben]. There’s not a lot of food pantries. Especially on weekends, it’s nothing. I hate my situation. It’s taking forever to get an apartment. The minimum is waiting two years for an apartment. If they’re building all these shelters, why does it take so long to get an apartment?”
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