Homeless on the rails
|Grand Central Station|
Now, to people from New York, the homeless situation was no revelation. But to those from outside the city, seeing it for the first time was a shock, for the national news did not pay much attention, and no television satirists mocked the officials who tried to do something about it. And the city did try, constantly removing the people, sometimes busing them to shelters, trying to keep the waiting room orderly and available for travelers. Advocates for the homeless called this heartless, forcing people into the cold nights and citing the constitutional right of poor people to mingle with those better off.
Cops were quoted as feeling constrained; they could not arrest people for simply being in a public place. Some homeless were quoted, saying they did not like public shelters because of the rules. Homeless people do not like rules.
We did not see it firsthand, but eventually over 25 years the situation improved. That is, until recently. News reports on the Internet from last year said the situation at the terminal was returning to the 1980s. One newspaper, clearly no friend of the homeless, described “hobos” picking through trash cans for food. And again, the city was confronted by advocates defending the constitutional right of people to exist where they want to.
To this observer, the situation at Grand Central was light years more serious, and far more of a public nuisance, than what has been happening in Fort Lauderdale, with the efforts of the city to keep homeless from congregating in public parks and being fed on its popular beach. And yet Fort Lauderdale got a storm of bad national press, making the city look callous in its approach to a problem that is growing nationally, and which is not being handled well anywhere.
It has been pointed out that South Florida may be bearing more than its share of the problem, for it is warm and when people drift toward the sun, this is as far as they can go, unless they try Central America. Perhaps that’s what happened to New York’s unfortunates in the 1980s. They may have simply moved to Florida, but probably not by train.