Port Authority now cordons off sections of the front entrances of each of its midtown bus terminal buildings after 1 am for the homeless. At that time, the terminal becomes officially closed to all except those with bus tickets.
The terminal officially opens at 5 am. The overnight homeless population -- as counted in the front vestibule "bullpens" -- numbers about 25. There is a homeless shelter one block away on West 41st Street, west of Ninth Avenue, where the remainder may go.
The overnight closing demonstrates that the Port Authority is willing to move out the homeless -- when it is for its own convenience. The policy allows for a cleaning of the facilitites during the lowest-ridership hours. It shows that, during the other 20 hours of the day, the stinking masses are totally welcome to befoul the facility because the bus terminal is "open to the public."
The same tolerance is in effect on the subways -- which never close.
It means New York City has -- at least in appearance if not in official policy -- reverted to the erroneous and ineffective policies of the pre-Giuliani days (before Bill Bratton implemented his "broken windows" theory) when Times Square was still teeming with street hookers and open-air drug markets, squeezee men roamed major intersections...and violent crime was much higher than it is today.
New Yorkers who remember 42nd Street in the pre-Disney days, infested by hookers, drug dealers and solicitors for porn shops will recognize the deterioration. Arguably, these are the "real" New Yorkers, the men and women who were here in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, whose view of New York was shaped by Death Wish, The Warriors and Escape from New York.
Tourists and relatively new New Yorkers -- that is, out-of-towners -- whose view of The City is shaped by Sex and the City (the HBO show, not necessarily the original Candace Bushnell columns in the New York Observer, circa 199) have not caught on to the change.
Even worse, and more alarming, is the apparent indifference of the Port Authority police (that is, of the officers who remain and who likely are overburdened) and other authorities to the problem. Most commuters also don't seem terribly annoyed -- not yet, anyway -- and this is the most dangerous signal of all. Such indifference, bordering on tolerance, acts as an invitation for more homeless or panhandlers to come into the terminal and hassle, annoy and offend commuters and travelers.
The younger generation -- the under-30 set -- is woefully unprepared for this change. This is the generation whose members have never encountered a New York City (that is, Manhattan south of 96th Street) is unsafe after sunset. This generation, not remembering the years when 2,000 people were annually murdered in the City and violent crime was expected, is extremely vulnerable because its members never developed the hightened sense of awareness and fear which served as a protective mechanism even back in the early 1990s.
Notably, other transportation hubs -- Grand Central Station -- are not so afflicted. There are signs of a similar situation at Penn Station, but the homeless there seem to be more physically segregated from the "gen pop" (that is, commuters) and hence not as much of an apparent problem.
Certain subway lines also appear to be afflicted by an invasion of homeless. In particular, the subway lines that used to be called the Eighth Avenue IND -- the A, C and E lines -- are now reported to be consistently plagued by homeless, to the tune of one person per car, at any hour of the day, on a daily basis.
If the homeless explosion is one of appearance, it may stem from the lack of police enforcement. This may be due to nothing more than manpower reductions, but another cause may be at work.
Public employees at all levels are suffering (or believe themselves to be suffering) from salary freezes, benefit cuts and requirements to contribute to their own health care and other benefits. Whatever the merits of such moves and putting aside the question of whether the workers are being adequately paid, or overpaid, for the work they are supposed to be doing, one fact is clear: such changes amount to a de facto pay cut.
Combine that with threats of job cuts, budget cuts and benefit cuts, and you have a recipe for a tremendous drop in public employee morale.
In such an environment, will police officers "go the extra mile" to roust and confront the homeless in the most visible places in the City?
City leadership needs to notice and act on this problem. Tolerance of violent homeless sends a dangerous message to those of us who travel into the City for business, education or entertainment. It also encourages business owners and managers to move to, or stay in, the suburbs.
Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who handles election law, investigations and litigation stress consulting through his firm, Eric Dixon LLC. Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.