On May 2, a young man named Jordan Neely was killed on the New York City subway. Neely, who was an unhoused New Yorker, was reportedly behaving erratically, so a fellow passenger, an ex-Marine who as of this writing has not been arrested or named by law enforcement, put him in a choke hold until he died. In the wake of this shocking crime, Aaron Gordon of Vice‘s Motherboard vertical examines how public transit became the front line of America’s housing crisis:
[J]ust because it is a known problem doesn’t mean there is an intelligent, evidence-based public discourse on what to do about it. The fact is that transit agencies have, to varying degrees, been dealing with this question for decades. Paradoxically, many members of the public, politicians, and the political commentariat clamor that transit agencies do something, even though the root cause of homelessness is quite obviously a housing problem and not a transit problem. And that something usually involves the same short-term non-solution that hasn’t worked for decades — ramping up police presence and enforcement at great cost — while ignoring the cheaper and more effective long-term solution of investing in outreach workers, drop-in centers with food and facilities, shelter beds, and supportive housing.
For this article, I spoke to local and national housing and transportation experts, organizations that work closely with the homeless on a daily basis, and transit agencies around the country. I asked them: What are transit agencies doing about homelessness, and what should they be doing?
I found near-universal agreement that the old approach of relying on police-based enforcement — creating a code of conduct that bans specific things homeless people do in public, then arresting them for it — is losing favor. Instead, transit agencies have embraced a model of “partnerships” with existing city agencies and nonprofits that tackle homelessness, a move that sounds sensible on its face but is often used as another excuse to continue to invest little or no money in the problem.