Amid protest, New York City holds hearing on homeless in subway system

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The issue of homelessness in New York City is a complicated one with no shortage of opinions.

The New York City Council held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the best way to get help to people who need it, especially in cases where people are turning to subway and train stations in lieu of actual housing.

The debate happened while a protest was held outside City Hall, with demonstrators saying Mayor Bill de Blasio's current "Subway Diversion Program" is flawed and discriminatory.

Many homeless New Yorkers say they have no choice, because while sleeping in the subway isn't the best option, it's their only way to stay warm. And officials say there are more homeless in the subway system than ever before.

Members of the Public Safety Committee, NYPD transit officials and the Department of Homeless Services were present at the meeting.

Over the past several months, the NYPD has been sending teams of officers down into the subways to enforce so-called Code of Conduct rules that prohibit, among other things, taking up more than one seat on the train.

As part of the mayor's program, homeless people are offered a choice of receiving a summons or accepting counseling from an outreach worker who can then help them get into a shelter.

Critics say it's harassment and short sighted. NYPD officials say it works.

"I want to be clear that being homeless is not a crime," NYPD Transit Chief Edward Delatorre said. "Whether you are homeless or not, no one is permitted to create hazardous conditions or engage in behavior that violates the law or MTA rules."

Advocates for the homeless say the diversion program is simply a way of playing a shell game with the homeless, shuffling them around without providing any actual solutions.

"We're going to continue to hold the mayor and the governor accountable for producing real affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers," said Giselle Routhier, of the Coalition for the Homeless. "It ignores the true solution to homelessness, which is housing."

They say the policy increases police interactions with people sleeping on the subways without offering them the housing they want and need, and that by emphasizing policing of homeless New Yorkers instead of devoting more resources to the housing and services people actually need, de Blasio has missed an opportunity to truly and humanely address the problem.

They say the program is ill-suited to meet people's needs for housing and instead offers the threat of summonses.

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