New York City unveiled a comprehensive plan Friday to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system that will expand response teams of health, police and community officials across the city.
Mayor Eric Adams, a former transit police officer, and Gov. Kathy Hochul highlighted the local, state and federal resources the city will employ to combat mental health and safety.
The joint initiative, which will go into effect on Monday, will involve the deployment of up to 30 inter-agency collaborative teams that bring together the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and community-based providers in “high-need” locations, the plan states.
It also seeks to add more behavioral health emergency assistance teams – as part of the “B-HEARD” pilot program – in precincts to allow mental health professionals to respond to nonviolent mental health 911 calls, direct NYPD enforcement of subway rules and provide investments in homelessness services and housing facilities.
The new efforts come as crime in the city, particularly within its transit system, has garnered national attention.
“The subway system and our bus system, they are the lifeblood of our city,” Adams said. “If we don’t get them right, our city won’t continue to recover from Covid. Millions of New Yorkers use the system to go to school, to go to their place of employment and just to visit their loved ones. It provides a vital service.”
Hochul nodded to the “very real humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes for far too long,” referring to homelessness and mental health.
On Wednesday, Adams presented the city’s $98.5 billion Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, which he said prioritizes public safety without cutting the budget of the New York Police Department.
Friday’s announcement took place just one day after a 22-year-old man was stabbed on a Brooklyn-bound train in an apparent unprovoked attack by a male stranger, according to the NYPD.
The incident followed the death of Michelle Alyssa Go, an Asian American woman who was pushed in front of a Times Square subway train on January 15. Roughly one week later, a 62-year-old man suffered minor injuries after he was pushed onto the subway tracks at the Fulton Street subway station in Lower Manhattan, the police department said.
Advocacy group says plan will ‘criminalize’ homelessness
Some homeless advocates, such as Coalition for the Homeless, denounced the initiative. Shelly Nortz, the deputy executive director for policy at the organization, said the plan would criminalize homelessness and mental illness.
“Repeating the failed outreach-based policing strategies of the past will not end the suffering of homeless people bedding down on the subway,” Nortz said in a statement. “It is sickening to hear Mayor Adams liken unsheltered homeless people to a cancer. They are human beings.”
Nortz applauded the restoration of 600 psychiatric inpatient beds in the city that were previously converted to Covid-19 treatment beds, as well as investments in homelessness and housing services. But she said the plan did not go far enough in providing voluntary inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care.
These resources should include medication, individual hotel rooms for unsheltered individuals and “at least 1,000 immediate low-barrier subsidized permanent housing placements paired with mobile mental health teams,” Nortz said.
“Medicaid managed care is an utter failure for those with the most serious mental illnesses, and must be completely reformed,” she said.
New measures aim to ‘modernize’ subway system
The new measures represent the second phase of city’s plan to improve and modernize a 113-year-old system that was forced to scale back its services early in the pandemic amid staffing shortages and declining ridership. Since the first phase of the effort was announced in January, NYPD officers have conducted some 115,000 inspections in the system, Adams said.
Hochul and Adams stressed the need to get the city’s operations back to the pre-pandemic levels of roughly six million passengers on an average weekday. That number dropped to approximately two million in 2020 and has increased to three million since the beginning of 2022, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased “substantially,” Adams said, citing the loss of jobs, uncertainty about housing and untreated medical crises and conditions.
“The vast majority of the unhoused and mentally ill is not dangerous,” Adams said. He said while subway riders have been “deeply concerned,” the plan will ensure that their “fear is not New York’s reality.”
Other key initiatives in the plan include training NYPD officers in the subway system to enforce MTA and New York City Transit Authority rules of conduct; incorporating medical services into DHS sites to serve people experiencing unsheltered homelessness; requiring everyone to leave the train and the station at the end of the line; transitioning people from the subway system to “safe” spaces.
NYPD officers will enforce subway violations such as “sleeping across multiple seats, exhibiting aggressive behavior to passengers, or creating an unsanitary environment,” the city said in a press release.