“Using the police to remove homeless people from the subways, we have to be very careful about that,” Councilor Diana Ayala said in an interview on WBAI’s City Watch. “Most of these people aren’t hurting anyone. They’re just looking for a warm place to sleep at night.”
When Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference last month to outline the second phase of his crackdown on New Yorkers sleeping on the subways, he asked the public for patience.
Homelessness on the subway was the result of “decades of betrayal,” he said on Feb. 18, citing declining mental health inpatient treatment, a lack of available housing and a system that was so “dysfunctional it became the norm.” .
But he predicted that New Yorkers, perhaps spurred on by negative media coverage, would demand immediate solutions. “I guarantee that today someone is going to say, ‘Are you going to fix this in a week?'” Adams said. “Things that happen in decades, we can’t wait decades to fix it. But Monday morning it will not be solved.”
The chairman of the council’s committee overseeing homeless services said she is willing to hold back an opinion on Adams’ policies until more time has passed, but she is nevertheless concerned about initial reliance on the police. without much additional treatment or housing options.
“I think it’s too early to say so I don’t want to rate him just yet,” Councilor Diana Ayala said in an interview on WBAI’s City Watch Sunday morning.
“But if we use the police to remove homeless people from the subways, we have to be very careful about that,” she added. “Most of these people aren’t hurting anyone. They are just looking for a warm place to sleep at night.”
Statistics from the first week of the program show the emphasis on police work. City hall said outreach workers engaged people 150 times while placing 22 people in SafeHavens and other shelters. At the same time, police issued 1,553 transit orders, displaced 455 people from trains and made 143 arrests. The mayor’s office said they will release additional statistics in about two weeks.
Ayala said people need a safe place to go when they leave the trains, such as a SafeHaven, a facility with fewer restrictions and, typically, more privacy than congregate shelters. According to a 2021 report by the Coalition for the Homeless, most people who live on the streets and on the subway have tried shelters, which require a visit to a shooting location before being placed elsewhere in the city, before deciding to stay. leave.
“Most people don’t feel safe in a shelter environment and until that is resolved I don’t believe we will be as successful as the government would like in getting those people to accept housing,” Ayala said.
The city’s Department of Homeless Services is in the process of opening nearly 500 new SafeHaven and similarly designed stabilization beds for people coming from the streets, but are facing strong backlash from local communities, even though the facilities provide a space for people who otherwise in public places.
The sites are “useful for people who sleep in subways or parks, but most communities don’t want them, so we have a fair question,” Ayala said. “Are we building enough or are we stagnating because certain communities are resisting it?”
The real solution to ending homelessness is through more affordable and supportive housing, Ayala said. She urged the city and state to accelerate the creation of more supportive housing and fill vacancies in existing locations.
She also said she wants the city to adopt policies that prioritize families in shelter for permanent housing. While people residing in public spaces represent the most visible face of homelessness in New York City, they make up only a fraction of the unhomed population. Families with children make up the majority of the residents of city shelters. The number of families in DHS shelters steadily declined before and during the pandemic, although families were turned away from entering the system more often than in years past.
Ayala said the city must first distribute federal emergency housing vouchers to families in shelters, while also making people with city rent vouchers eligible for affordable housing lotteries.
“We need to get out of this hole, and the only way to do that is to ensure that people have priority for Section 8 vouchers,” Ayala said.
Listen to the full episode here: