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LinkNYC Charging Kiosks Become Magnets For Homeless

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- More than 1,700 kiosks across the city offer free Wi-Fi calls and USB ports to charge devices.

But it turns out those ports are causing concern for some New Yorkers, who say the kiosks have become hangouts for the homeless, CBS2's Reena Roy reported Wednesday.

FLASHBACKDe Blasio Launches Free Wi-Fi, Charging Stations Throughout City

While walking the streets of Manhattan, uptown or downtown, you're bound to see people making themselves right at home at a LinkNYC kiosk.

"I see homeless man just sitting in front of it, with his phone and some bags and perhaps eating. He stays there for a long time," resident Julie Hafner said.

"Little bed, little couch, whatever, they plug it in," another person said.

LinkNYC kiosk
A LinkNYC kiosk.

And plugging in for extended periods of time is something CBS2's Roy also noticed over and over the past few weeks. Day after day across the city, she documented many who appear to be homeless, camped out and connected to wires.

"Homeless people with their cellphones wait to charge them at kiosks and they're there for hours," Nuratu Otulana said.

"Mostly sleeping or plugged. It's kind of like 50/50 depending on time of day," Sid Kumar said.

Some New Yorkers first complained about the kiosks when they were rolled out in 2016. The free web browsing feature immediately became a tool to watch inappropriate content and loiter, forcing the city to remove the web browsing. Now the question: should the charging ports also be taken away?

"If you see anyone congregating around something you wanna use, it'll deter you from using it and you'll have to go somewhere else," Otulana said.

Since the end of last week, CBS2 has been trying to speak with the city agency responsible for the kiosks. But despite multiple attempts on our end the agency commissioner has not made himself available.

CBS2 would have asked if the charging feature could be removed, leaving just Wi-Fi and calling services. Instead, a city spokeswoman told us the service was designed for all New Yorkers, regardless of housing status.

CBS2's Roy also tried to speak with the director of LinkNYC, the vendor that operates the kiosks for the city, but she declined.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers are still left to wonder why a private service that is sanctioned and overseen by the city continues to operate on the streets unabated, despite sometimes being used improperly.

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