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$860,000 outreach plan to target LIRR homelessness

The Long Island Rail Road wants to spend $860,000 to help address the homeless problem at some stations in Nassau and Suffolk through an outreach initiative.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LIRR Committee Monday approved a five-year contract with Manhattan-based Services for the Underserved to provide "homeless outreach services at LIRR stations," on Long Island.

The deal, which will go before the full MTA Board on Wednesday for approval, calls for "outreach teams," which will include licensed social workers, to regularly visit some LIRR stations to "help identify temporary shelter, permanent housing and/or mental health services to the homeless, as appropriate and as necessary," according to the railroad. The LIRR did not identify which stations will be targeted in the initiative.

"The presence of the homeless at LIRR stations is a growing concern for LIRR customers and staff, and sometimes presents law enforcement issues," the LIRR said in a statement.

One of the challenges of addressing complaints is that "any individual has a right to be in LIRR public spaces as long as they are not violating rules and regulations."

MTA Board member Ira Greenberg expressed concern over the plan's teeth. "We take the people out of the stations and they wind up back there anyway," Greenberg said.

LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski acknowledged that getting homeless people to accept services is "a never-ending problem," but said the new plan marks the first time that the LIRR will have its own contractors responding to problems. "We're being more proactive. And to me, that's a step forward," Nowakowski said.

"Convincing homeless people to voluntarily accept services is difficult," said the LIRR, which suggested that police patrols can actually attract homeless people because it "creates a safe environment for those who have no home."

The LIRR plan is part of a broader initiative by the MTA to address homelessness at its subway and commuter rail stations, such as Penn Station, including by increasing police patrols. According to the MTA, the number of homeless people counted in Penn Station each month has dropped from more than 100 in January 2014 to fewer than 50 last month.


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