NYC had to move more than 250 homeless people out of subways to disinfect trains

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Mayor Bill de Blasio greets healthcare workers and conducts a press conference at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, New York, April 10, 2020.

EuropaNewswire | Gado | Getty Images

More than 250 homeless people were moved out of New York City subways in the city’s first scheduled shutdown to disinfect trains early Wednesday as part of the state’s effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

“We have never ever seen so much success in a single night before,” de Blasio said at a news briefing. “It’s only one night. … But this number is staggering,” he said of the number of homeless people who were moved into temporary housing.  

De Blasio said 139 of the 252 homeless people who were approached by outreach workers and New York Police Department officers agreed to leave the streets and seek help, De Blasio said. “We have never seen this many people who are living on the streets agree to something different.”

There are consistently somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 people living on the streets and subways of New York City across the five boroughs, de Blasio said, citing an annual study by the federal government.

Homelessness on the city’s subways has been an issue for decades. The mayor said his administration is “hopeful” about improving the situation and emphasized that homeless encampments are “unacceptable.” 

Outreach workers will be back every night offering homeless people the help and support they need, Steven Banks, commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services, said during the briefing.

“We have shelters and safe havens, and we’re providing the same services to the people last night that have enabled us to bring 2,500 people off the street,” he added.

On April 30, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and De Blasio announced that New York City is suspending its 24-hour subway service to disinfect subway cars during the global pandemic. Cuomo said the cleaning service will occur from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. every night.

The city’s subway system has previously been lauded for its 24-hour daily service. Its operation has rarely been ordered to halt except in cases of natural disasters.

The announcement of the shutdown came amid growing concerns from local advocates saying that homeless people are being displaced but not properly provided with safe alternatives. 

Homeless shelters across the U.S. are facing volunteer shortages and struggling with increased costs during the deadly outbreak. Numerous shelters are making adjustments to their services such as spacing beds further apart and sterilizing surfaces more frequently to minimize contact and abide by social distancing rules. 

De Blasio said he “respectfully disagrees” with the advocates, saying his mission led by Banks is “compassionate and decent” and strives to help people “get to a safe haven or a shelter that works for them.”

“We provide medical care, food, substance abuse support in terms of programs to get them off substances, mental health services,” he said. “We know it’s effective, because over 2,000 people have come in and not gone back to the streets, and I would think the advocates would want to applaud and support something that is ending street homelessness.”

New York City has a total of 171,723 positive cases of Covid-19 and 13,724 confirmed deaths, according to data from its Department of Health.

The daily number of people admitted to hospitals was 109 and the number of people currently in ICU was reported to be 599 Wednesday. While these indicators were both higher than the numbers from May 3, the percentage of people who tested positive for Covid-19 was down to 15% from 22%. 

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