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Lawsuit: Homeless Advocates Say New York City’s Subway Coronavirus Rules Hurt Most Vulnerable

— February 14, 2021

Advocates for New York City’s homeless have filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, claiming the agency’s new coronavirus rules unfairly target people who shelter in the subway because they have nowhere else to go.

According to The New York Times, the city recently decreed that nobody can stay in a subway station for more than an hour, or after local trains have been taken out of service.

Furthermore, New Yorkers are now prohibited from taking carts measuring more than 30 inches long or wide into stations or aboard trains.

While these rules were first introduced in April—then posited as a temporary measure intended to curb the spread of novel coronavirus—they were made permanent in September.

Attorneys and homeless advocates note that the rules seem almost custom-designed for the homeless, who can often be spotted sleeping inside subway tunnels or sprawled across seats in late-night trains; absent any personal storage facilities, many use push-carts to store what few belongings they possess.

Barry Simon, a homeless man who’s among suit’s plaintiffs, said that New York City should not see its homeless population as a people to be discarded. Instead, Simon suggested the city and its MTA investigate new, more effective ways to keep people off the streets and out of subway stations.

“Homelessness is not a problem, it is a responsibility, and the MTA shares in this responsibility,” Simon said. “When we stop seeing, or confusing, a responsibility for a problem, we will better be able to get it right.”

Homeless person sleeping on sidewalk
Homeless person sleeping on sidewalk; image courtesy of Mihály Köles via Unsplash,

Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of NYC Transit—the MTA agency responsible for subway operations—told FOX5 that, as “devastating” as homelessness may be, it is not the responsibility of transportation authorities struggling to keep their facilities safe.

““No one should be coming into the subway system because that’s their only option to, you know, escape the elements or you know, sit down on a bench for an hour or two or take a nap,” Feinberg said.

“We have to do better than that as a city,” Feinberg said. “But in terms of the subway system, we’re moving essential workers all the time and so we cannot be the shelter of last resort.”

Abby Collins, a spokesperson for the MTA, echoed Feinberg’s general sentiment in a statement to The New York Daily News.

“We are reviewing the lawsuit that we first learned of in the press,” Collins said. “We will vigorously defend the regulations in court that were put in place to protect the health and safety of customers and employees in the midst of a global pandemic — period.”

The New York Times notes that many homeless people have actively avoided “barracks-style” shelters sine the pandemic began, precisely because they are afraid of contracting coronavirus in such crowded settings.


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