The battle over how to improve the subway system in New York City took an interesting turn Monday when both the MTA and the New York Police Department started a tug-of-war over an unlikely pawn — homelessness.
It started just after lunch when Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joseph Lhota released a statement meant to attack Mayor Bill de Blasio over what he described as the ongoing problem commuters are having with the homeless on trains and at stations throughout the five boroughs.
The job to keep that under control falls with the NYPD, Lhota said, since the transit police were consolidated within the city police force in 1995. That gives the city primary jurisdiction in handling the problem, not the MTA.
“We all know that homeless people need help — clean shelters, job training (and) mental health services,” Lhota said. “Leaving them on the trains is degrading for all. The response is not to defend or excuse the presence of the homeless, but to get them the help they desperately need. Every New York City mayor since (Ed) Koch has realized this except our current mayor.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined in the scuffle when he appeared on the cable channel NY1 later that same day.
“I reject this faux argument of, well, it’s the civil rights of a homeless person to sleep on the subway,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “Let’s get the homeless the help they need. Shelters, mental health, job training, etc.
“The NYPD used to do this. They need to do it again.”
The NYPD, however, had no intention of staying silent. Before Monday ended, Stephen Davis — the department’s deputy commissioner of public information — issued his own statement.
“The New York City subway system is among the safest places in the safest city in America,” he said. “The chance of being a victim of a major crime is roughly one in a million. Any other characterization denigrates the hard work of the men and women of the NYPD.”
Police have targeted thousands of people over what they call “quality of life” enforcement, resulting in 3,500 arrests and 12,300 summons. But then again, someone can’t be arrested simply for being homeless.
“Homelessness is not a crime, and homeless people who are not violating subway rules cannot be ejected from the system,” Davis said. While the police have made 10,000 contacts so far this year, more than 90 percent of them have refused services.
Community Board 8 officially is without a district manager once again.
Michael Heller, who had just accepted the job this past spring, has already packed his office and has departed, CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty said, with his last day actually on Sept. 29.
The Riverdale Press first reported Heller’s intention to leave the $75,000-a-year job in late August, where the former CB8 board member said he planned to stay until November when he turns 62 and would be old enough to collect Social Security. That also was expected to be how long it would take CB8 to replace him as district manager.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time now,” Heller said at the time. “I’ve reconsidered my lifestyle. My daughter just went off to college, and my son is living in another city, so I’ve just decided to make some changes in my daily activities.”
The search for a new district manager continues, Ginty said, with resumes coming into the Riverdale Avenue office, and a search committee reviewing them. That would be the fourth district manager for CB8 in the past two years.
Heller succeeded Patricia Manning, a 30-year employee of the board who worked her way to district manager. She took on the job in 2015, only to retire by the beginning of this year.