Mole people flock to NYC subway tunnels as temperatures drop

Clayton Guse, New York Daily News
·4 min read

Dozens of homeless people have sought shelter deep in subway tunnels as cold weather sets in and trains remain closed to to the public overnight, transit workers told the Daily News.

The migration of the city’s down-and-outs from streets and homeless shelters to tunnels during the autumn and winter is nothing new — but subway crews said the problem of mole people has grown.

“I’ve seen it getting worse over the last few days when we had the cold weather and rain,” said a Metropolitan Transportation Authority train operator who asked not to be named out of fear of being disciplined.

“Last week I saw a homeless guy come up onto the platform from the roadbed at Fifth Ave. on the R line. He was walking along the bench wall. He lived in the tunnel," the train operator said.

Crews said they’ve recently spotted a homeless encampment in an abandoned space near the Kingsbridge Road station on the B and D lines under the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and another man who for two weeks in late October set up a tarp for shelter just south of the Canal St. station on the R line in Manhattan.

“I see more people on the tracks with no fear of repercussions,” said another train operator.

Homeless New Yorkers have had a tough time sleeping in the subway since May 6, when Gov. Cuomo ordered the system closed from 1 to 5 a.m. each night to scrub trains of COVID-19. The governor called the underground homeless situation “disgusting,” ordered that people who sleep on trains be kicked out, and urged city officials to try to get them into homeless shelters.

The overnight shutdown began in the spring, just as the weather warmed up. Now that temperatures are dropping, workers say dozens of homeless people have moved far into the tunnels to avoid hassle.

MTA track inspectors around 1:30 a.m. Monday found the remains of a middle-aged man believed to be homeless in the Nos. 2 and 3 train tunnel just south of Wall St.

The man’s body was burned and decomposed, and sources said several of his limbs were separated. Cops suspect he was electrocuted by the third rail.

Train operators on the B, D, F and M lines said they have for two years raised alarms to MTA honchos about a man who sleeps between the lines' express and local tracks just south of the Broadway-Layfette station.

Video recorded in September and shared online Tuesday shows the man curled up beneath a white sheet a couple feet away from the tracks. Another photo taken last week by a train operator shows the man’s subterranean campsite.

Crews accused MTA bosses of ignoring their reports of the mole man, who they say still lives in the tunnel.

MTA officials said they would not be surprised if the subways’ population of mole people is on the rise — but they blame city officials for failing to address the problem.

“It is the responsibility of the NYC Department of Social Services to get to the root of this problem and provide safe shelter and access to critical medical and mental health services for vulnerable New Yorkers," said MTA spokesman Ken Lovett. “It is incredibly dangerous for anyone without proper training to enter a subway tunnel at any time.”

Cops said the NYPD no longer responds to most reports of homeless people in the subway since the department’s budget was cut over the summer. That’s up to the city Department of Social Services, police said.

Representatives from DSS and Mayor de Blasio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Even when homeless people don’t enter the tunnels for shelter, many in recent months have found little-used nooks in subway stations to sleep during the day when the system is not closed.

A photo shared by a straphanger with The News on Tuesday shows a man sleeping near an employee-only area at Fulton Center in lower Manhattan.

“Today I went in a different entrance,” said the straphanger, Fiona. “Maybe someone can check on the person."

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