New York leaders pledged Wednesday to take action against a surge of homeless people sleeping on empty subway trains during the city’s coronavirus crisis.
Photos and video showing the homeless seeking shelter in the Big Apple’s underground transit system have circulated widely on social media this week, sparking outrage.
“The cars were filthy, they were disgusting, homeless people were there with all their belongings,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo, lamenting a “deterioration” in the conditions of the network.
He ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the independent body which runs the subway, to come up with a plan to scrub every train every day.
“Any essential worker who shows up and gets on a train should know that that train was disinfected the night before.”
“The trains have to be clean,” Cuomo told reporters, adding that the homeless should also be able to get the services that they need.
New York’s lockdown, implemented in mid-March, has resulted in a 90 percent drop in riders, freeing up space on trains and in stations for people who sleep on the streets.
The New York Post tabloid on Tuesday published a video shot by a conductor which showed multiple people sleeping on benches in various cars of a single train.
Piles of boxes, bags and luggage lay beside them.
“I gotta go to work in this. It’s not making any sense,” the conductor, 25-year-old Torry Chalmers, can be heard saying.
It followed photos published by rival tabloid the Daily News which showed similar scenes.
The MTA has been the subject of a tussle between the mayor and the governor for years with both passing the buck for who is responsible for investing in the much-maligned metro.
In a column published in the New York Post Monday, the MTA’s acting president called on Mayor Bill de Blasio not to let the underground become a shelter for the homeless.
De Blasio announced a proposal this week to close ten end-of-line stations between midnight and 5 a.m. to allow carriages to be cleaned and police to empty stations of any homeless people.
It would also allow outreach workers to help move the homeless into shelters.
However overcrowding in the city’s shelters has led to fears that COVID-19 could spread there.
Social media users sympathetic to the plight of the homeless say they are forced to go underground because of a lack of other options, with cafes closed due to the lockdown.