MTA announces task force to address subway homeless issue

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The MTA on Wednesday announced a task force that will have 30 days to come up with a plan to deal with the homeless problem in the New York City subway system.

Officials say the subway's homeless population is up 23% this year, and the task force will look at issues like making subway rules clearer and possibly creating a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA.

It will also provide assistance to social workers to distinguish between homeless people who need help and panhandlers trying to take advantage of passengers.

The task force will work in partnership with MTA Police and New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and will focus on providing additional assistance to those in need to provide better options than staying on a subway.

The announcement follows a letter from Governor Andrew Cuomo sent to the MTA Board earlier this month urging the board to address the issue of homelessness as part of the MTA reorganization plan. The task force will build on the partnership between the MTA and NYPD that have been working to address the problem.

"Homelessness is a growing problem on the subway, with a growing impact," MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim said. "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."

The task force will look at issues such as:
--New metrics for measuring homelessness
--Updating subway rules and regulations to provide more clarity on what is a violation of the rules
--Enhanced enforcement of those rules
--Improved coordination among agencies
--Best practice engagement techniques and methodology
--The potential benefit of establishing a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA
--Increased customer communications
--Additional access to resources for those in need

Officials say homeless individuals are increasingly occupying the subways not for transportation, but for shelter or in some cases illegal activity. These non-transportation activities frequently disrupt service, create delays, and can pose a risk to riders on the trains.

In addition, by allowing homeless individuals to stay within the system rather than finding them supportive housing or other resources, it poses a risk to their own health and safety.

The transit system often provides an opportunity for homeless individuals to panhandle and ask MTA customers for money, which can create a challenge in distinguishing the homeless from con artists.

One of the goals of the task force plan will be to provide assistance to social workers in distinguishing individuals who are in need of supportive services from those seeking to take advantage of passengers.

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