Homeless seek an elusive safe refuge in the subways
BY BEN FRACTENBERG, GABRIEL SANDOVAL,
AND JOSE MARTINEZ
This story was originally published on Oct. 8,
2019 by THE CITY.
The beating deaths of four homeless men sleeping
on the streets of Chinatown early Saturday shocked
But for some New Yorkers without a permanent
home, the killings confirmed an unease that has them
avoiding city streets and shelters overnight, afraid for
Many find refuge in the subways. But life underground
is getting tougher.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans to
hire 500 new MTA cops to deal with various issues.
Meanwhile, as THE CITY reported last week, the
NYPD is now using surveillance cameras to keep tabs
on the homeless in a dozen stations.
Against this backdrop, THE CITY spoke with
some people who regularly seek shelter in the subway
system. Here’s what they told us:
Joseph Brown seeks shelter in the Times Square station
on Monday. Photos by Ben Fractenberg and Gabriel
‘MY SAFE HAVEN’
Word about the killings of the four men didn’t
reach Joseph Brown until Monday.
When the news spread Sunday, Brown was busy
dealing with the loss of clothing he said was stolen
while he was sleeping.
“Now I’ve got to start all over again,” said Brown,
52, who tugged a suitcase and a shopping cart at the
42nd St.-Port Authority station.
He doesn’t like shelters. And won’t sleep on sidewalks,
like the men who lost their lives Saturday.
“That’s unsafe,” Brown said. “I go on the train.
That’s my safe haven.”
Still, he added: “The subway is dangerous, too.”
LESSONS FROM 35 YEARS
Donna Moody-Scott, who said she’s been homeless
for 35 years, noted it took her a decade to stop worrying
about being hassled by cops. As she put it, she
learned to say “the hell with the police.”
She said she’s been staying in Penn Station on and
off for a quarter-century. The 60-year-old won’t go
to a shelter, saying she’s through being harassed by
homeless men and shelter workers.
“They say they want to protect you, but you can be
raped in the shelter,” Moody-Scott said.
Peter Johnson is able to access Atlantic Ave-Barclays
SICK OF ROBBERIES
Peter Johnson sometimes stays at the Atlantic
Ave.-Barclays Center station. That’s because the elevator
there can accommodate his wheelchair.
Johnson, 58, said he’d been living at an accessible
shelter in Greenpoint, but left for safety reasons.
“They’re always stealing and robbing people,” said
Johnson, a former kitchen worker. “They robbed me
three times in there — took two cell phones and a pair
Gavin Darden says he shifts between staying on the
street and subways.
SAFE ON THE SUBWAY
Gavin Darden sat on a platform bench at the Forest
Hills-71st Avenue station in Queens, wearing tattered
shoes and keeping a large suitcase close to him. “Just
some toiletries,” he explained.
Darden, 32, said he split his time between the
streets and the subways: “I just come down here to
watch people, to walk around, to ride the trains.”
He won’t go to city shelters.
“I don’t need any help down here,” Darden said.
‘IT’S COLD OUT THERE’
A man who goes by “Trillion Star” said he’s had
mixed dealings with the police.
But he said he appreciates the kindness of some
officers he’s met after falling asleep on the train and
winding up at the end of the line.
“They just want to know if they can get me a coffee,
something hot,” he said. “Because it’s cold out there
Trillion Star says he has been battling homelessness
for nine years.
The 38-year-old Queens native said he “couldn’t
even dream” he’d ever be without a home. But after
nine years, he’s got his subway routine down.
“I like to be off the street at night,” he said.
Carl Robinson says he’s been homeless in New York
‘IT’S JUST A HOME’
Carl Robinson was glad to share his observations
from a platform bench at the 34th Street-Herald Square
station, but not his age. The burly, bearded man, who
uses a cane, said he didn’t want to deal with any “age
Robinson, who noted he’s been without a home
since 1985, said homeless people became “public enemy
No. 1” during former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration.
While he prefers the trains to the street or shelters,
“No place is safe in the world anymore.”
Robinson said there’s “a very simple solution” to
“It’s called a home,” he said. “It’s just a home, nothing
This story was originally published by THE CITY
(www.thecity.nyc), an independent, nonprofit news organization
dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves
the people of New York.
Donna Moody-Scott has been staying in Penn Station
for 25 years.
Ramon Rosa stays at the Broadway Junction station
in Brooklyn for safety.
4 TIMESLEDGER, OCT. 11-17, 2019 BT QNS.COM