Most of the time, when we’re discussing the spreading crisis of homelessness here, we’re talking about the west coast. But the problem isn’t exclusive to California and Washington by any means. There are plenty of homeless across the country, including New York City. But unlike Los Angeles, the Big Apple experiences real winters with snow, sleet and freezing temperatures. That means that the homeless can’t just crash on the sidewalks and they need to find a place indoors to stay warm.
Increasingly, they’ve set up encampments inside of Grand Central Terminal, frequently in the food courts. And the business owners there are fed up. Unfortunately, they say that nobody from City Hall or the MTA is paying attention to their complaints. (CBS New York)
From sleeping on the ground to stealing, some business owners in Grand Central Terminal say the homeless population is taking over and they simply can’t take it anymore.
Inside the world-class transit hub adorned with grand chandeliers, you’ll find men and women sleeping at tables, hunched over on benches, using drinking fountains to bathe and walking barefoot feet away from where about two dozen business owners are trying to make a living selling food.
“At 5:30 in the afternoon, it becomes a homeless shelter,” business owner Joe Germanotta said.
From the descriptions given by several business owners who were interviewed, things have seriously deteriorated over the past few years. They’ve experienced homeless people sleeping at the food court tables, exposing their genitals to customers and aggressively panhandling, threatening people who don’t give them money. Seeing a vagrant bathing themselves in the public drinking fountain doesn’t exactly attract customers either. But the MTA insists that they’re doing everything they can and they don’t see it as that big of a problem anyway.
Rather than going after the transit cops, the business owners should be taking their complaints straight to City Hall and the District Attorney’s office. The reason this problem has grown exponentially in the past four or five years can be found in the policies enacted under the de Blasio administration. Starting back in 2016, the DA for Manhattan announced that they would no longer be prosecuting so-called “quality of life crimes” such as sleeping on public property or public urination or defecation.
More offices followed suit, and in March of last year, prosecutors in Manhattan and the Bronx announced that they were summarily dropping all summons for “petty crimes” that fell under those categories. While the laws aren’t officially off the books, this decriminalization effort is almost identical to similar policies currently in place in California. And they’re producing the same results.
When you let people know that you’re not going to be arresting or detaining them for certain illegal behavior the result is predictable. You see more of that behavior. The homeless have learned that the city won’t punish them for all of this activity so they’re taking advantage of what looks like an invitation to terrorize the subway system. And Grand Central is an obvious target because of its size and labyrinth of tunnels and chambers.
Arresting and locking up the homeless isn’t a solution to homelessness. The city has to find more beds and roofs for them and institute productive assistance programs. But when homelessness turns into criminal behavior such as we’re seeing here, law enforcement has to step in and remind people that they can’t just run amuck.