New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday announced the state plans to fund teams of dozens of social workers to patrol subway trains and get homeless New Yorkers to shelters.
The state plans to deploy five new “Safe Options Support” teams of eight to 10 social workers and medical professionals to the New York City subway system to connect homeless people with shelter services, Hochul announced at a press conference from the Fulton Street station in Manhattan on Thursday.
“For the first time, we’re going to create teams of trained professionals, who will be embedded here, build relationships, develop trust,” Hochul said. “We’re going to get them the support they need, get them into the shelter and ultimately into housing.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who joined Hochul at the new conference, said the New York Police Department will refer homeless people they encounter to the new teams unless there’s criminal activity that requires immediate attention.
“We need to be clear here: We will not allow our police officers to have unnecessary engagement with homeless individuals, and those petty issues that will cause negative encounters with our police officers and the riders of the public,” he said.
Being homeless is not a crime and those who refuse help can’t be detained or otherwise removed from the subway if they are not violating the law or posing an immediate threat to themselves or others.
The officials did not provide details on how the teams would deal with individuals who refuse help.
“It’s about building trust. When you build that trust and provide the wraparound services, you can actually have a better chance of taking them off the streets,” Adams said. “These are people who are living on the streets and the subway system, just have a lack of trust in the system.”
Hochul said the state also planned to implement reforms “to change the dynamic of what a shelter is and make it truly temporary” while providing supportive housing and homes to move people into.
“You have to make it a shelter that people actually want to be in as well,” she said. “This is a scary place for people, especially during COVID, and they’re afraid of being victims of crimes in the shelter sometimes.”
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