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July 19, 2019

Shelter in a subway storm: As MTA delays caused by homeless increase, the city’s response falls short

June 16, 2019
Get a room. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

It’s not your imagination: The homelessness crisis is aggravating the poor performance of our subway system. For the sake both of our homeless and everyday straphangers, time for stronger medicine.

In 2017, the Transit Authority recorded 418 subway delays attributable to homeless individuals; in 2018, that total spiked to 659. In the first quarter of this year alone, the numbers shot up to 313.

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The city responds with something it calls the Subway Diversion Project. Color us skeptical.

Launching July 1 in Manhattan, it aims to get people who lay down or camp out in the subway the services they need to address what are typically serious underlying problems. Instead of cops issuing a civil summons for violating a transit rule, an individual will get connected with city-contracted social workers. If the individual accepts, the summons goes away.

It’s noble to try to deliver homeless people the aid — typically mental-health and substance-abuse services — they need to put their lives back together. It’s smart to try to interrupt a cycle whereby police, who have better things to do, wind up rousting the same people over and over again.

But we find it hard to believe that the incentive of summons forgiveness will get a population with far deeper demons on the right track.

Nor should we rule out the possibility that this problem is getting worse because farebeating enforcement has lightened up.

Everyone who goes through the turnstiles has the right to ride the subway. Nobody has the right to turn a bench into a bed, or a car into a toilet. There are shelters and bathrooms, lots of them, for that.

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