New York, NY – This is week three of my short series about homelessness in New York City. It is not without careful study or personal history that I note the challenges which I am about to report. However, it is also not without sadness that I also report the death of a woman who was shoved in the path of an oncoming subway train this past Saturday morning.
According to reports, Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, was pushed in front of an oncoming train by a man who has a history of emotionally disturbed encounters. This tragic news comes after Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced their plans to improve policing and outreach to homeless people.
I have contacted several outreach program directors in both New York and New Jersey to discuss their efforts to help those with mental health issues. In the meantime, as a native New Yorker, I will offer this column on some very basic terms. Over the years I have seen, as you no doubt have seen as well, many people in dire situations. I’ve watched them holding signs in a plea for generosity. But as a volunteer and addiction specialist, I have also seen people refuse shelter or walk in and then walk right back out. I have witnessed people refuse necessary medical treatment or leave against medical advice to return to the cold streets simply because they were uncomfortable in a shelter atmosphere.
Speaking of cold — temperatures dropped to the low teens this past weekend. Most people were home or indoors either recovering from Omicron, quarantining to keep from getting Covid, or just trying to stay warm. But not me. I had work to do.
As I made my way through Times Square before the tragedy took place on Saturday, I noticed the streets were empty. There was no one else walking around except for some of the city’s homeless.
By midday, I noted there were people who found shelter in Grand Central Station. The idea for people on the street is to find a semblance of comfort from the elements and hope for someone’s kindness or spare change to buy food.
Fortunately, The New York City Department of Homeless Services issued a Code Blue Weather Emergency notice, which is issued whenever temperatures drop to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. National Weather Service calculations for wind chill values are also factored in. The City of New York promises no one who is homeless and seeking shelter during a Code Blue will be denied.
This is comforting news, but there are individuals who refuse shelter because of mental health reasons. Some suffer from anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, alcohol and substance abuse. These same people may also be grappling with other advanced medical issues including HIV and Tuberculosis, which makes the task of providing shelter equally as important as providing proper physical and mental healthcare.
As for the cold truth about Code Blue, the snow will melt and the winter will pass. But without a plan to effectively provide mental health resources, support, shelter, awareness and housing, the homeless will still be homeless and tragedies in the subway, like the one that took the life of Michelle Alyssa Go this past Saturday will happen again.
Remember, the people you see on the streets are still people. Therefore, for the quickest response, it is urged that New Yorkers who see individuals in need of assistance call 3-1-1 from a phone or mobile app and request outreach assistance. However, for the most immediate response when dangerous emergencies arise, always call 9-1-1.
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Well-being and DEI Content Provider, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at email@example.com