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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will launch a task force focused on addressing the New York City subway system’s rising homeless population, which has risen by 23 percent so far this year. The task force is expected to assemble soon and will have 30 days to design a plan that will “measurably reduce homelessness and panhandlers on the subway” by the end of the year. The announcement comes on the heels of a newly published audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli which found that a contractor hired by the MTA to handle homeless outreach was inflating its work and actually turning away the needy, as AM New York reported.
According to the MTA, the decision follows a letter from Governor Cuomo that was sent to the MTA Board earlier this month, urging them to address the growing issue as part of the MTA reorganization plan. As the city’s homeless population continues to soar, individuals who seek shelter underground are often criticized for disrupting service, creating delays, and posing a risk to other straphangers.
“Through this task force we’re going to bring together a broad and empowered group that will help us to develop an expedited plan to keep our customers and workers safe and our trains moving while providing much-needed resources and assistance to this vulnerable population,” said MTA managing director Veronique Hakim in a statement.
“Those individuals experiencing homelessness and living in the subway system are not getting the help they need and deserve,” added New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Michael Hein.
“The mass transit system is not an appropriate shelter for anyone, and the current approach cannot continue. Our agency is charged with overseeing local social services districts, which are responsible for housing the homeless. We will advise the MTA to ensure that enhancements are made to produce outcomes that result in people who are homeless getting the services they desperately need.”
DiNapoli’s aforementioned audit of nonprofit organization Bowery Residents Committee—which was hired by the MTA to perform homeless outreach at Penn Station and Grand Central Station—shows that both BRC and the MTA failed to enact proper oversight over the matter.
“The nonprofit the MTA hired has turned away homeless men and women seeking assistance,” DiNapoli wrote. “Some outreach workers spent more time in the office than reaching out and filed inaccurate and unreliable outreach reports. The MTA is not getting what it paid for and riders and the homeless are suffering for it.”
His office also found similar issues with a different contractor, Services for the Underserved, which was hired by the Long Island Rail Road to assist the homeless population in and around LIRR train stations. The agency is reportedly paying SUS $860,000 over the course of a five-year contract but DiNapoli’s audit criticized the agency for “failing to assist homeless people to the extent possible under its contract responsibilities,” as reported by Newsday.
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