According to Mike Austin, the E line was the most popular subway for homeless people in New York City this winter. It never goes aboveground, he says, making it ideal for a warm night of sleep. The B and D trains were nice, too: You could ride them back and forth all night, from the Bronx to Brooklyn.
Just be ready for the cops.
It happens quickly. All of a sudden, a late-night subway freezes at the platform, that brake sound suggesting the train isn’t going anywhere fast—or at least that it will stick around long enough for undercover NYPD officers (as Austin describes them) to scour each car. For cops, the line’s last stops must make for natural targets: That way, all they have to do is wait for whoever is sleeping on the train to roll right in.
The night before we spoke, Austin, an elderly black man, sought refuge on another train, the A—which in his previous experience attracted fewer cops. It was windy and cold, so he took it to its Queens terminus, in Far Rockaway, and awoke to an NYPD badge. The 51-year-old was given a fair warning: He could get on another line, but the cop didn’t want him to see him on that train again. Other officers weren’t as forgiving; over this past winter, Austin tells me, he was locked up for 72 hours in jail simply for being homeless on a Bronx-bound D train.
"The thing that always confused me was the club crowd. They’d come on the subway late at night after drinking," Austin says. "And the cops would single us out. I don’t whether it was because of nationality or the way we dressed. How can you determine who’s homeless or not?"