The streets of New York feel different since the pandemic struck. And it’s not just the number of closed businesses.
Homeless people are far more noticeable. People who used to flock to the city to work are now toiling from home. Broadway is dark and tourism is practically non-existent. That means, our homeless population is not only more apparent. There are fewer people for the homeless to ask for handouts.
Also, many people living on the streets aren’t just homeless. They’re also emotionally disturbed.
All of this is contributing to a dangerous situation.
Every morning in the predawn hours I make my way to Penn Station for the train ride home to New Jersey. At that hour, there are far more homeless people in the station than there are passengers waiting for their trains to be called. And many of them are obviously mentally ill.
Many stalk the corridors muttering to themselves. Others shout, either at real people or people imagined.
Some are violent. I’ve seen fights between homeless people. And homeless folks ‘’boxing” someone only they can see.
Sometimes I see homeless people pounding their fists on the walls.
Not all are aggressive. But many are. Both in Penn Station and on the sidewalks of the streets and avenues that border the train station. My colleagues who take the bus to work say their experience at the Port Authority bus terminal mirrors mine at Penn Station.
Those of us who wait for our trains to be called every morning are used to it. But people who are there for the first time since the pandemic, many of them to catch a convenient train ride to Newark Airport, are often frightened.
There are two police departments with bases inside Penn Station. The MTA’s on guard on the north half of the station served by the Long Island Railroad. Amtrak police are responsible for the south section where Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains stop. There’s an obvious difference in the number of officers assigned. MTA cops are seemingly omnipresent. Amtrak cops are on the constant move in order to keep up with the problem. They make homeless people sleeping on stairs move. And those who are particularly disruptive are…