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CBS2 Demanding Answers: Commuters Say Homeless Out Of Control In Penn Station

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Commuters say the homeless situation underground at Penn Station has grown out of control, and with cooler temperatures on their way, they expect to see even more move in.

CBS2's Hazel Sanchez demanded answers Monday from city, state, and railroad officials.

CBS2 has found Penn Station has become a very popular homeless haven -- and many commuters said they want to know how the situation has been allowed seemingly to spiral out of control.

"With the changing weather, it's just getting worse," said commuter Frank Ulrich. "I mean, it's obviously evidence we have an increasing problem with homelessness in our city."

"It's coming to the point that it isn't safe," added commuter Juan Martinez. "If they're not all together there, who knows? They could harm themselves or others around them."

CBS2's cameras recorded a video of homeless people sleeping on the floor in the NJ TRANSIT terminal inside Penn Station around 11 p.m. Sunday. There were not just one or two people, but several.

The situation was not much better Monday afternoon. Some nearby businesses called the floors of Penn Station "zombie land."

"I see them laying on the floor in the morning, you're stepping over them. There's more and more as the weather gets colder and colder," Barbara Lynch told CBS2's Jessica Schneider.

Lynch has been commuting from Glen Ridge for 8 years and has never seen it this bad.

"I had an aggressive one several months ago that followed me from here down into the subway station," she said.

This past Tuesday, police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the homeless would not be permitted tolerated -- making specific reference to the subways.

"Subways are not homeless shelters, and the homeless will not be allowed to congregate in them," Bratton said last week. "The city has more than adequate shelters in other facilities."

But problems with the homeless have been increasing, in the subways as well as railway depots.

So who is responsible for preventing the homeless from loitering specifically in Penn Station? The answer is Amtrak, which owns the building, but declined CBS2's multiple requests for comment on camera.

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in a statement, "Homelessness is a complex problem without an easy solution."

Amtrak said it provides homeless outreach services 365 days a year, and it hosts monthly meetings of a task force with representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NJ TRANSIT, the NYPD, and homeless outreach organizations.

"Amtrak Police and station management continue to work closely with these partners to balance compassion, engagement, and assistance with law enforcement and customer service as it relates to the homeless population," an Amtrak spokesman said in a statement.

But Amtrak refused to comment on camera and didn't offer any specifics on how the problems are being handled.

One homeless woman, who asked not to be identified, said the task force needs to do more.

"There's a whole lot of us out here. You can't get any help," she said. "I came from another state, because you can't get help in any state."

CBS2 showed the video of the homeless in Penn Station to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and asked him if the state needs to step in. He expressed confidence that the city has the homeless crisis under control.

"The good thing is we know how to solve them. But we have to have the capacity and the competence to solve them," Cuomo said. "We were here before. We don't have to reinvent the wheel every time."

The city says it now has homeless outreach services at all 468 subway stations and that teams are deployed 24/7 in all five boroughs. But commuters said they are not convinced that is enough.

Earlier Monday, the MTA approved more than $800,000 for homeless outreach programs over the next five years.

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