NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Every night, with the subway shut down for cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of homeless New Yorkers are herded out of the subways.
It is the first time in history the entire system is shut down, with train halted between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Homeless advocates are providing services to the people being moved off the trains at 29 terminus stations, including the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island, where the homeless were offered shelter by teams of outreach workers.
But many refused, demanding to board shuttle buses so they could spend the night riding with the essential workers the system is intended to transport.
Bus operators tell Eyewitness News that the process is chaotic and unnerving.
"When the police kick out 200 homeless people that have no place to go and just walk out and get on buses, that's not a plan," TWU bus operator Lou Marreo said.
Outreach workers and police officers encountered 252 homeless New Yorkers on Tuesday night. They said 113, or roughly 45%, refused assistance. Wednesday night, 143 refused assistance.
Mayor Bill de Blasio insists it's a plan that's working.
"The buses, the subways for essential workers, this is an emergency," he said. "People who need help should get help, so I am certain that we can work with the MTA to address that issue and keep maximizing the offer of help."
TWU Vice President J.P. Patafio said steps will be taken to keep people safe.
"We're going to make sure that the homeless problem doesn't become a bus operators' problem, and we will stop service if we have to," he said.
Marrero said the homeless people pose a risk to essential workers.
"Out of the 200 people that was here, there was one young guy, and I asked him, 'Where are you going?'" he said. "He goes, 'I work at FedEx in Maspeth.' I gave him three masks to get on the bus with all those homeless people."
MTA officials admit it's a work in progress.
"We want to make sure that our essential workers get to where they're supposed to be, as we promised," MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren said. "And we want to make sure that we continue to support the outreach efforts of the city."
The NYC Dept. of Social Services released the following statement:
"We are standing up this brand new initiative overnight, are strengthening this work every day, and are proud of what we achieved in the first two nights, effectively transporting New Yorkers in need to shelter and care. As we develop this strategy, we are adapting in response to what our teams are experiencing--and will redouble our efforts as necessary to ensure we're engaging as many New Yorkers in need as possible. For the first time this week, more outreach teams have been deployed at once overnight than ever before, and we intend to keep coming back, continuing to engage and building trust in order to finally help each individual inside. As part of this effort, MTA is working with us to ensure transportation needs are met expeditiously.
Helping our neighbors experiencing unsheltered homelessness get back on their feet is hard work in the best of times. In a crisis, it requires the best efforts of every level of government, working in tandem--and through this partnership across Agencies and levels of government we're focused on doing everything we can to connect individuals to the services they need. We know that it can take hundreds of engagements for someone to accept services and that someone who's not ready to do so today may be ready to make that transition tomorrow. We intend to keep coming back again and again, through this effort and our ongoing 24/7 outreach, to make those breakthroughs."
More information is available from the MTA at new.mta.info/coronavirus/overnight.
MORE CORONAVIRUS COVID-19 COVERAGE