Just days before the plans to shut down overnight subway service in New York City goes into effect, two homeless men were found dead on the trains within 11 hours of each other.
Police say transit workers found one deceased man on the C train at 168th Street in Manhattan on the night of May 1 and the other man was found on the morning of May 2 on the 4 train at the Utica Avenue station in Brooklyn. Neither of the men has been identified, NYPD spokesperson Sergeant Mary Frances O’Donnell said.
The medical examiner will determine the men's cause of death but preliminary investigation didn't reveal signs of criminality or outward trauma on the bodies, according to O'Donnell. One of the men tested negative for COVID-19 while the second test is still pending, Mayor de Blasio's press secretary tweeted Monday.
"These tragedies are heartbreaking and we are fully cooperating with the NYPD on their investigation," said MTA spokesperson Ken Lovett. "We have repeatedly said the subways are no replacement for shelter and if these two individuals were indeed homeless, as suspected, it's clear more needs to be done by the city to ensure all New Yorkers have access to needed shelter and services."
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The effort to clear New York City's subway trains has taken on a specific urgency as a result of the coronavirus. The system has always been a haven for the city's homeless, a situation that's only become more clear to observers during the crisis.
Officials said that subway service will shut down each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to increase cleaning of trains and stations.
Tony Utano, President of Transport Workers Union Local 100, says the deaths of the two men highlight what transit workers have been saying all along.
"You have to get the homeless out of the subway and provide them the services they need, including safe shelter and medical treatment," Utano said. "Transit workers are worried they could catch the coronavirus from the homeless who are camped out in the system. That's why we support closing the system overnight during the pandemic for intensified cleaning and disinfecting.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio says the effort to find shelter for unhoused individuals ramped up due to the pandemic. He said last week that the city is moving 1,000 homeless residents into hotels per week and that a testing program will be brought to shelters, with tests becoming available across the entire shelter system by mid-May.