Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced a sweeping plan on Friday to deploy teams of police and social workers to the New York City subway, pledging to remove homeless people sheltering on trains and platforms, some of which have contributed to the escalation of violence in the system.
Police will strictly enforce often flouted subway rules of conduct, including no occupying more than one seat, littering and being aggressive towards other passengers. Dozens of mental health professionals with the power to order the involuntary hospitalization of people they deem dangerous to themselves or others will be added to outreach teams across the system.
“No more doing what you want,” Mr. Adams said. “Those days are over. Swipe your MetroCard, use the system, get off at your destination. That’s what this administration says.
The measures come as a spike in violent crime in the transit system, including several high-profile incidents of stampede, has made public safety a primary concern for many riders, with some saying it has driven them to stay off the subway.
While subway ridership has slowly rebounded from its plunge at the start of the pandemic to just over half of pre-pandemic levels, the system faces a perilous financial future, and its long-term survival depends on more of commuters believe the trains are safe enough to ride, officials said Friday.
The new policies also come in the wake of a horrific crime at the Times Square subway station in January, when a 40-year-old woman, Michelle Alyssa Go, was pushed past a train and a homeless man with a history of schizophrenia. was charged with his murder.
Immediately after Ms Go’s death, Mr Adams said “New Yorkers are safe on the subway”, adding that the problem was one of perception. “What we need to do is remove the perception of fear,” he said then.
After drawing some backlash for the comment, Mr Adams said he personally did not feel safe on the Tube.
But Friday’s plan lacked detail and timelines, and given the chronic shortage of acceptable and affordable housing options for most people who choose to live in the metro, it was unclear where the homeless shelter expelled en masse from the transit system would go immediately, if not the street. There was little discussion about the cost of the plan and how it would be paid for.
Yet the announcement, for which the mayor and governor were joined at a Lower Manhattan subway station by the police commissioner, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, and mental health officials of the city and state, underscored the seriousness of the problem and the central role that officials believe the subway will play in reviving the economy of the pandemic-scarred city.
In 2021, rates of violent crime in the subway per million weekday passengers increased almost everywhere compared to 2019. Criminal assaults in the subway increased by nearly 25%, despite the decline in ridership fueled by the pandemic.
Thirty people were pushed onto the tracks in 2021, compared to 20 in 2019 and nine in 2017, police said.
“People tell me about their fear of using the system,” Adams said. “And we’re going to make sure fear isn’t the reality of New York.”
The mayor and governor have outlined a host of measures they say would connect the hundreds of homeless people housed in the transit system, many of whom suffer from mental illness and addiction, to services and permanent housing. .
But Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at the Homeless Coalition, said the plan amounted to criminalizing mental illness.
“Repeating the failed proximity-based policing strategies of the past will not end the suffering of homeless people lying on the subway,” she said in a statement.
Ms Nortz hailed the plan’s provisions that include increasing the number of available psychiatric inpatient beds, private room shelters and supportive apartments, which come with on-site social services.
But she was skeptical of expanding involuntary commitment at the expense of civil liberties, at a time when there was a desperate need for “prompt access to voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care, including medication”.
The new administration of New York City Mayor Eric Adams
The city had already beefed up police presence on the subway this year, ordering 1,000 more officers to patrol the system in early January. A week later, two officers were at the other end of the platform when Ms Go was shoved to death.
The new effort, which is detailed in a document released Friday titled The Subway Safety Plan, will go into effect next week, Adams said.
It attempts to address a frequent complaint from rights advocates and homeless people that simple “outreach”, where a homeless person is usually simply offered a room in a barracks-like group shelter – which he generally refuses – is insufficient. The plan provides for the creation of approximately 500 new beds in private rooms.
Police officers will form teams with outreach workers and clinicians who will criss-cross stations and trains to direct the homeless and mentally ill off the transit system and to help, bringing people to the hospital when warranted.
The teams – there will be up to 30 – will focus on high-priority stations and train lines where ridership or reported crime has increased, said Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner.
The measures build on a state plan announced by Ms. Hochul last month to create similar teams, known as “safe options support” teams, although those groups have yet to be formed. or deployed.
Targeting the problem of untreated mental illness more broadly, the plan calls for extending Kendra’s Law, which allows a judge to order a person with mental illness to undergo outpatient treatment.
“Many rivers feed the sea of homelessness,” Mr. Adams said, “and we’re going to have to dam every river if we’re going to solve this problem.
The plan also addresses the dwindling number of psychiatric inpatient beds in state and city hospitals, which some experts say has contributed to the number of people with serious mental illness on the streets and subways. .
One of the reasons hospitals have closed psychiatric beds is because Medicaid has cut reimbursements for longer psychiatric stays. Ms. Hochul said Friday the state would increase Medicaid reimbursement for psychiatric beds by 10% and ask the federal government to match that with an additional 10%.
For homeless people with mental illness, there has long been a shortage of supportive housing, which comes with on-site social services; Applying for a place in supportive housing often involves a bewildering amount of paperwork.
The plan promises to expand the availability of supportive housing and reduce “the amount of paperwork needed to apply.”