By Jessica Easthope
BAY RIDGE — The problem has always been there, and now a global health crisis has made homelessness on the subway more visible than ever before.
Currents News caught just a glimpse of the problem, pools of blood and homeless people occupying most cars, at the R train station in Bay Ridge. And that’s nothing compared to what workers are experiencing.
“All of these things have always been there but when you’re in the middle of a pandemic you don’t expect certain things to still happen and go on, and it’s just been tough for us workers,” said MTA train conductor Tramell Thompson.
The MTA employees are essential workers who sometimes arrive at their jobs to find feces, urine, and used syringes.
For the last six years, Thompson says he’s seen a vicious cycle of blame allow problems and safety risks to continue.
“With the MTA and the mayor and the governor. You see it’s a blame game,” he explained. “The mayor is saying it’s the state. The MTA is saying it’s the mayor. The Governor is saying it’s the mayor.
“You have three entities pointing their fingers at each other and who’s suffering? You and I,” Thompson added. “It’s not only the workers, it’s the riding public.”
To date, nearly 2,000 MTA workers have contracted coronavirus and nearly 100 have died.
During a press conference this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned how much of the problem is the state’s responsibility.
“On the question of who’s responsible for homelessness in the subways, it’s like other questions I’ve been asked lately. We’re all responsible, it’s all of our jobs to get this done,” de Blasio said. “The state runs the MTA. Clearly, the state has a whole lot of the pieces to the puzzle here.”
Currents News sent some of the troubling images to the Mayor’s office asking for a response. A representative said, “I really think you’d want to ask the MTA about this.”
Earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio introduced Thrive NYC, a $1 billion initiative to address mental illness in New York City. It’s an initiative MTA workers say they haven’t seen manifest itself yet.
“You have EDPs, emotionally disturbed persons … those are the ones who really need the help,” said Thompson.
Despite the conditions, Thompson says most homeless are just looking to sleep and eat on trains.
“The City and the State failed them, but can the City and the State make them hostages to what the City and the State believe is right? These homeless people have choices too,” he added.
Thompson says it’s worse than he’s ever seen it, rivaling the subway’s worst years.
“You have to lean on your beliefs, your faith, your religion when you have a job like this,” he said, “especially when you’re dealing with the public in New York City.”
The MTA recently announced that starting on Wednesday, May 6, there would be no subway service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. while trains and all 472 stations are disinfected. Each morning, around 1 a.m., police will be making a sweep of subway cars and removing any homeless people so the cleaning can begin.
“This is going to be one of the most aggressive, creative, challenging undertakings that the MTA has done,” Governor Cuomo said. “We’ve never been here before.”
It is the first time in its history that the subway system, which opened in 1904, has been completely shut down and so far, no timetable for when they will completely reopen has been given.
To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.