NEW YORK - A "dangerous dungeon" is how Rep. Tom Suozzi described Penn Station on Wednesday.
"I've been coming in and out of the city my entire life for decades," Suozzi said on the LIRR platform in Penn Station. "I came here the other day and I personally was scared. I know people who say they will not come into the city for dinner or for a show because they're scared to come."
The Long Island Democrat, who is also running for governor, said it is time for the city and state to come up with a comprehensive plan to address safety at Penn Station, pointing to deteriorating hallways, low ceilings, and homeless people sleeping in shadowed corners.
"There's literally people that are using drugs, shooting up right outside," Suozzi said. "There are people aggressively approaching people right outside of these facilities. It's a scary place."
MTA officials in a statement said they have been calling on the city for years to assign more mental health and homeless services professionals to Penn Station.
Just last month, there were at least two separate fatal stabbings at Penn Station, killing a soccer player who was sleeping on the subway and a homeless man.
On top of that, a recent customer satisfaction survey conducted by the Long Island Rail Road showed that the top concern among people at train stations was "encountering people who are panhandling or experiencing mental illness or homelessness."
"They come here to Penn Station because they need shelter, especially now during the cold weather and winter months," LIRR Commuter Council President Gerard Bringmann said. "Some people have mental health issues. Some of these people check all three of these boxes and it's heartbreaking as a commuter to come here and see all these people desperately needing services that they're not getting."
But Cea Weaver of Housing Justice for All said that calling homeless people dangerous sends the wrong message and sparks fear-mongering around what is really an economic crisis.
"Everyone is simply one paycheck away from eviction," Weaver said. "We live in an incredibly housing insecure state and these sort of fear-mongering approaches and comments really serve to ostracize people and distance ourselves from real solutions."
Weaver said there are numerous legislative bills the state should take up next year to address the homeless crisis in New York.
"We need three things to solve it," Weaver said. "We need more housing, we need eviction protections, and we need rental assistance money."
In the MTA statement, John McCarthy said that the agency is nearing completion of a $500 million expansion of the LIRR concourse, "that is raising ceilings, dramatically expanding public spaces and adding entrances.
The full-scale modernization that Gov. Kathy Hochul has rolled out will transform Penn into a 21st-century showpiece like Grand Central or Moynihan Train Hall. The governor has said, "We need a Penn Station that serves New Yorkers — LIRR and subway riders, and in a few years Metro-North customers — who are after all the main users of this long-neglected facility."
Suozzi said he plans to unveil his own strategy on how to tackle these issues over the next few months as part of his campaign.
In a statement to FOX 5 NY, the city's Depart of Social Services-Department of Homeless Services said outreach teams have worked throughout the pandemic to "keep hundreds of most vulnerable neighbors safe."
"Round-the-clock subway outreach has continued even as 24-hour service has returned, and we will keep building on that progress with more compassionate outreach in and out of the subway system, and continued expansion of transitional housing options and pathways to permanency," a spokesperson wrote in the statement.
The agency said that it has taken over responsibility from the MTA for outreach at Penn Station, Atlantic Terminal, and Jamaica Station and has brought on more outreach staff for that purpose.
With FOX 5 NY Staff.