When a homeless man who goes by “Kush” first stood outside the new Moynihan Train Hall and peered in, he quickly realized he would be avoiding New York’s newest transit showpiece.
“I’ve seen it from the door and I know it’s not for me,” Kush said. “It’s very visible that it’s not for me, so I sleep somewhere else.”
Just after midnight last Tuesday, “somewhere else” was across Eighth Avenue in a corridor with several other homeless people on the upper level of Penn Station, alongside a shopping cart stuffed with garbage bags of aluminum cans.
Inside the famously grungy rail hub, homeless New Yorkers told THE CITY that the Jan. 1 opening of the sparkling train hall for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road customers doesn’t change a thing for them.
The debut of Moynihan Train Hall marked the culmination of a years-long $1.6 billion conversion of the old James A. Farley Post Office building into a sprawling Penn Station extension named for the state’s longtime U.S. senator who championed the project decades ago.
The hall closes daily between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. — the same hours of the overnight subway shutdown. The space has no public seating, except in areas limited to ticketed passengers.
“It’s a way of ostracizing,” Kush said. “It’s like they say, ‘Oh, not those people.’”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials have touted Moynihan Train Hall as a transformative gateway to the city after decades of train travelers crowding inside the low-ceilinged Penn Station, which replaced the Beaux-Arts hub infamously demolished in the 1960s.
But advocates for the homeless say Moynihan Train Hall’s hours and seating limitations are designed to stem the migration of those who take refuge in the station across the street.
“I think it’s just another example of places being unwelcoming to actively homeless people or people who appear homeless,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless.
‘This Isn’t Our House’
The overnight closure of Moynihan Train Hall, which opened to praise of its design and skylit marble waiting area, is not an unusual one at transit facilities.
Grand Central Terminal is closed between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Lower Manhattan’s Fulton Center closes during the hours when there is no passenger service in the subway. Union Station in Washington is off-limits to the public from midnight to 5 a.m.
Among the city’s newest transit halls, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, which opened in 2016, and the Fulton Center, which opened in 2014, have been criticized for a lack of seating in public areas.
Additional seating at Moynihan Train Hall is planned once retail areas are completed, said Matthew Gorton, a spokesperson for Empire State Development Corporation, the state authority that oversaw the building conversion.
Gorton said the 255,000-square-foot train hall closes for maintenance and cleaning overnight — when 30 LIRR, NJTransit and Amtrak trains arrive and depart from Penn Station.
The decision to permanently close Moynihan Train Hall for four hours each night was made, Gorton said, by representatives from the Empire State Development Corporation, Amtrak, the MTA, the U.S. Postal Service and Vornado Realty Trust, which is developing 120,000 square feet of retail space inside the building.
Penn Station stays open around the clock, a draw for those without shelter, with many people spread out on floors or congregating near the turnstiles after the subway closes.
“On one side of the street, it’s alright for us to be there,” said Nolan Gonzalez, 33, a homeless man who was resting by the turnstiles closest to the newly remodeled subway entrance at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue. “On the other side, it’s not alright.
Of the new Moynihan Station, he said: “Ultimately, this isn’t our house.”
‘People Need Housing’
Jesus Soto, 21, who said he has been sleeping on the streets or in train stations for three years, said he’s “not curious about this new place.”
“I would rather get myself to a safe shelter or to supportive housing,” he added.
Routhier cited the overnight closure of the train hall as “misguided.”
“It’s sort of this larger theory that people are outside by choice and could be housed otherwise,” she said. “In reality, people need access to housing.”
For Maedell Powell, 56, the main waiting area at Penn Station passes for housing most nights. She said she has been “off-and-on homeless” for three years.
Moynihan Train Hall “is way better than this,” she said. “Do I feel welcome? Uh-uh.”