Sleepless in the Subways

(Jon Feinstein)

By Jared Serrano

In late October, Andrew Cuomo spoke to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD about homelessness on the MTA subways and stations. “We need to get the homeless off the trains and out of the subway stations so people feel safe and to get the homeless people the help they need,” said Cuomo. However, for a lot of homeless people, the subways are the only safe place they can sleep at night and find warmth during the harsh winters. According to the NYPD, there are 1,812 people who live in the transit system, with 90 percent refusing help.

“I’ve been sleeping on the subway for a couple of years, the weather conditions is just too harsh for me to sleep outside and the people can be cruel,” said George McInnis, 37, who has been homeless for nine years after losing his job during the recession.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, as of September 2017 there were 65,351 homeless people in New York City, which included 15,553 homeless families with 23,445 homeless children. “That was the most disheartening thing about sleeping in a shelter, seeing all of those children in there just really broke my heart, it wasn’t their fault,” said McInnis.

Much like McInnis, many people in NYC are homeless due to the lack of affordable housing. Other factors include eviction, domestic violence, job loss, and hazardous job conditions. “Once I lost my job as an accountant in 2007, I couldn’t get any jobs in my field and the rent in NYC was rising crazy and working retail wasn’t cutting it for me so then I decided to stay in shelters until I get back on my feet,” said McInnis.

Most people who become homeless go to shelters and try to find a job as soon as possible. However, this is often a difficult task. “When there’s not enough jobs that pay well enough to afford all of these new residential buildings, you’re going to have a whole lot of people who won’t be able to live in those buildings,” said McInnis.

In New York City, approximately 58 percent of people in homeless shelters are African-American, 31 percent are Hispanics or Latinos, 7 percent are Whites and less than 1 percent are Asians. “Sleeping on the streets I saw all kinds of people from different backgrounds, different pasts, and different ethnicities, it was truly amazing,” said McInnis.

Life wasn’t always bleak for McInnis. He had previously owned an accounting firm in Queens and he says it was doing very well before the 2008 recession. “Everything was doing great, I had a house in Astoria, my accounting firm was walking distance away from house, and money was good, everything was just phenomenal,” said McInnis.


The recession affected millions of people worldwide and was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. McInnis’ business was affected. “One week I was doing pretty well and the next poof it was gone and I had to scramble to find something else until it was too late and I lost everything,” said McInnis.

Eventually, McInnis was out of a job, homeless and living from shelter to shelter until he decided to sleep on the subway. “However, I was tired of having to go different shelters and competing for beds,” he said. “Then having to wake up really early to put be back out on the streets. I was just tired of it, I decided to sleep in the subways instead.”

Living in the subways isn’t the most ideal situation, but for McInnis, it was a necessity. “I felt like I had no choice but to live on the subway,” he says. “It is not as bad as everyone thinks. Even though there are a lot of rats and garbage, it was a place where I felt safe and warm.”

Now, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, this might come to an end. “You do not help a homeless person by saying we’ll let you sleep on the train,” said Cuomo. “Give the person the mental health treatment they need. Have the clean safe shelters. And have the NYPD do what they used to do, which is get help for the homeless person.”

But some homeless people such as McInnis think it won’t end well. “Once they start allowing the NYPD to start kicking people out of the subway with no more room in shelters, the more sick homeless people you’ll see on the street,” he said.

McInnis thinks there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel for himself. “I’ll get out of poverty and get a job in accounting again, but it’s got to be when I’m ready,” he said. “I feel like the subway is my home and it’s somewhere I got comfortable and made it my home.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *