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NYPD Turns MTA Crew Break Bus Into Refuge for Homeless

The MTA set up an isolation bus for workers outside the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College station, May 13, 2020.
The MTA set up an isolation bus for workers outside the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College station, May 13, 2020.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Transit workers trying to socially distance at a Brooklyn subway terminal were shut out of an MTA bus brought in for that purpose after police steered homeless people on the parked vehicle, THE CITY has learned.

The bus was stationed at the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College stop to supplement the cramped crew quarters at the terminal where workers have at times been too close to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic, as THE CITY reported in March.

Subway conductor Julia Martinez said she boarded the bus around 6 a.m. Tuesday to avoid a “really, really, really small” crew room, but saw the seats on the bus occupied by apparently homeless people.

“There were eight homeless people on the bus,” she said. “So I went to the police and asked why they were on there, and he said it was a homeless bus.”

‘Nobody’s Securing Buses’

An MTA spokesperson said the bus was supposed to be reserved for workers so they could keep safe distances from each other.

“Due to a miscommunication with the NYPD, a few homeless individuals were wrongly permitted access which resulted in a bus being removed for cleaning,” said the spokesperson, Tim Minton. “The issue was resolved and buses continue to serve as mobile offices at Flatbush terminal and elsewhere without incident.”

The NYPD declined to answer why the bus was not limited to transit workers, with a spokesperson saying that MTA vehicles are “deployed for a variety of tasks” while the subway system is shuttered daily from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

“These include vehicles solely to transport homeless individuals who seek shelter during the subway closure period,” the spokesperson said.

Richard Richards, a train operator, said he tried to board the bus for transit employees during a break Monday around 9:30 a.m., but discovered it was locked.

“When I went to inquire why it was locked up, I was told it was because a homeless person urinated on it,” Richards said. “There’s nobody securing those buses.”

Signs that say “MTA PERSONNEL ONLY” have now been posted on the bus at the end of the No. 2 line in Brooklyn to explain the vehicle is there to help employees socially distance and “help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

“When I went in the bus, there were people laid out sleeping, shopping carts, bags, everything,” Martinez said.

‘Need Somewhere to Go’

During the overnight subway shutdown, police have been removing the homeless from stations and trains, with only some opting to go to shelters. Others have spent nights on the street or riding MTA buses for hours.

As temperatures dropped last weekend, the MTA parked a limited number of buses at end-of-line stations to provide shelter from the unseasonably cold weather.

Jacquelyn Simone, a policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless, said the entire situation points to how some who have no place to call home see the transit system as “the best of a variety of bad options.”

“No one wants to be homeless, period,” she said. “No one wants to resort to sleeping or riding on the subway all the time.”

The Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates have called on the city to utilize vacant hotel rooms as places where the homeless can safely social distance.

“They still need somewhere to go,” Simone said.

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