NOTES BY NORSE: If anyone has any reports on the behavior of transit authorities towards homeless people seeking shelter or using monthly passes to keep riding back and forth on buses, please let HUFF know.
Santa Cruz transit authorities have not only beefed up their “bum-busting” thug patrols at the Metro Center, but seem to be tolerating or overlooking bizarre anti-homeless behavior by some of their drivers. A homeless man reported to the local ACLU several months ago that both a bus driver stopped and insisted he turn his political sign (something about Bush) down to the ground rather than have it displayed while he sat waiting for a bus at one of the local stops. (He’d come to the local ACLU to report tat the library had told him he couldn’t have his sign visible to the public as he sat in the main branch. Pleich’s ACLU did nothing.)
“No loitering” signs have reportedly appeared in the local Metro Center. Some years ago I was cited there for “blocking” the 7′ long sign which says “Metro Center” on Pacific Avenue, because I told two homeless people they didn’t have to respond to “move along” comments from a First Alarm security guard (See “Ticketing for Standing and Talking at the Metro Bus Stop Sunday” at http://www.indybay.org/
Please video and post any incidents of Metro abuse against homeless patrons (or anyone else) on you-tube and link it to this website or inform HUFF at 831-423-4833.
Moving along the wall, the officer woke a homeless man by giving him a prodding kick to his feet, then roused several others.
Rachel, 43, has been homeless for seven years, and today she says she has no choice but to stay inside Penn Station, one of America’s biggest rail hubs. The frigid cold outside is life-threatening, with temperatures dropping into single digits and wind chills as low as 20 below zero.
She and other homeless people who lay low at Penn Station on harsh winter days describe a coordinated campaign of intimidation and physical harassment by Amtrak police. When the homeless head to the station for warmth, Amtrak police will often expel them outside if they lie down anywhere.
“We can’t sit down. We can’t lay down,” without worrying about the crack or shove of an Amtrak police officer’s baton, Rachel said.
“Some cops will hit you,” she added, describing a time she saw a friend of hers forced up against a wall by police or another who had a baton pushed against his chest.
The officers who roused the sleeping homeless referred Al Jazeera to a supervisor, who provided a number for Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman.
“That’s not Amtrak policy to physically abuse any passenger or patron,” Cole said. Cole said Amtrak would look into the allegations.
Rachel, who is from Brooklyn, said many homeless people, including herself, would rather endure jail or possible abuse by police than go to a homeless shelter, where fights, theft and even sexual assault can occur.
Asa Lowe, 41, who said he lived in Coney Island until Superstorm Sandy forced him out in 2012, described treatment by Amtrak officers as unfair and the feel of the cold as “brutal.”
“The police are really threatening. Look at the brutal temperatures out there. Anybody who sleeps out there is going to catch pneumonia,” he said. “It’s cruel, and it’s going to continue all day.”
In New York, shelters are one of the limited options homeless people have, and New York’s new Mayor Bill de Blasio, sworn in New Year’s Day, has mandated they stay open 24 hours a day, a change from his predecessor’s policy.
But homeless people often resort to other strategies to keep warm, including staying in Penn Station, and also hiding underground in the subway.
The A train spans 31 miles of track from the northern part of Manhattan island to the southeast corner of the borough of Queens.
“It’s cold. It’s about as cold as I’ve ever seen. I stay here, just walk around and stay inside,” said Wurtz.He said he has been homeless for two or three years. In his last job, he worked in a textbook warehouse. He speaks slowly and calmly about his hardships.
“I hope it’s a short winter,” said Wurtz.
But for Allen Duncan, 37 — who sat next to an air vent near a Wells Fargo ATM in Penn Station to keep warm — staying on the subway has risks.
“If you fall asleep, then you don’t know where you’re going to wake up. You could end up in Far Rockaway,” he said, referring to the far end of the A train in Queens.
Maureen Ollievierre, who gave her age as “grumpy and over the hill,” pushed a laundry cart full of blankets through the station.
“I hate this weather. I love 85-90 degrees. I dress warm, drink hot drinks,” she said. Ollievierre also said police at Penn Station give her a hard time “no matter what.”
Ray Cosby, 69, who said he has been living on the streets for 20 years, said he often sleeps in an abandoned truck in Manhattan to stay warm.
There are services available for homeless people in Penn Station through the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC), a non-profit, which has an outpost inside the station. A BRC press agent referred Al Jazeera to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s homeless services office, but that office did not reply to Al Jazeera by press time.
At Port Authority, a bus depot just eight blocks north, homeless people described more understanding police treatment.
Robert Alston, 34, who’s been homeless since August, said police at the bus terminal don’t threaten homeless with expulsion “unless you’re violent.”
“You’ve got to keep a low profile,” he said.
But keeping a low profile doesn’t seem to work at Penn Station.
“The Amtrak cops, they don’t care for the homeless,” said Maldonado, 46, who was sitting in Port Authority with his wife, Maria, 44, on Tuesday. “They treat us like we deserve it. They put us right into the street.”
“If you fall asleep, then they arrest you,” Wilson added.
Deep freeze in eastern US places heavy burden on nation’s homeless
Shelters struggle to keep beds open as extreme cold brings potential for frostbite and even death
Maria said Amtrak police arrested a friend of hers for lying down in the station to ease the pain from a swollen leg.
“Compared to the cops at Port Authority, they stink,” she said.
But the charity of some travelers at Penn Station tempers some of the coldness from authorities.
One woman, Jaenine Scott, 25, making her way out of the station, left a styrofoam container of leftover TGIFridays dumplings at the feet of a homeless man sleeping near an escalator.
“At least he’ll have some food,” said Scott.
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