Helping the homeless: Full-time job for NYPD crisis team

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Confronting a daunting homeless population, the NYPD's citywide Mobile Crisis Outreach team heads out late at night.

Eyewitness News went along on a recent evening as the team approached the homeless at Penn Station.

"We want to try and get in and talk to them, see if they are doing okay, if they have a place to stay," said Officer Vanessa Wanderlingh. "If they don't, we want to try and connect them with that."

Wanderlingh, who has homeless outreach experience, works alongside Officer Joe Musquez, who is also a social worker, and registered nurse Mark Medetsky.

Each person they approach poses a new challenge.

Medetsky is able to make medical and psychological evaluations on the spot.

"I'll be available for you," he tells one homeless person. "And hopefully I can facilitate proper resources for you to use."

A record number, nearly 64,000 people, stayed in shelters this past January alone, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

City estimates show nearly 3,700 homeless people were unsheltered last year.

"The problem is getting worse," said the coalition's David Giffen. "Every year, more New Yorkers are falling into homelessness."

This fact does not escape the growing attention and frustration of subway riders, who regularly post video and pictures on social media, including on after a 5 a.m. ride on a Number 2 train.

On a random day at Penn Station, we discovered five sleeping men taking up a full bench on the platform.

And on a Number 1 train, we encountered four sleeping individuals stretched out in one subway car alone.

"I don't know if there is more, but it's pretty consistent," said one commuter. "There is definitely a lot."

"Homelessness, we need to take care of it. Period," said another. "Any way we can help, we should do it."

And so the NYPD crisis team pushes on.

"We place an emphasis on establishing a relationship with them so that they are more willing to come with us," said Musquez.

The second time they encounter a woman she accepts medical help.

EMS is called "to see if she wants to go to the hospital," says Musquez. "Or we are going to see if she is willing to go into a DHS intake center."

It's a challenging but clearly never-ending effort to help the homeless in the nation's largest city.

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