A growing number of homeless people sleeping overnight in the South Orange Train Station has prompted the impending closure of the station between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. daily. The new schedule is set to begin March 16.
The move comes after increasing complaints from commuters and residents, said Township Administrator Barry Lewis, Jr. “It has been a growing concern,” said Lewis, who noted what while the town was “sympathetic” to the plight of homeless people sleeping in the station, the situation had grown untenable.
“There were people defecating in corners,” said Lewis. “It is not a good environment for anyone.”
The station is owned by New Jersey Transit, which has the sole jurisdiction to set the station’s hours. NJ Transit was concerned about security issues as well as the safety of commuters and the homeless, said Lewis.
After complaints from residents began to increase in recent years, the township’s Public Safety Committee reviewed the situation and recommended the closure. In June 2014, the Board of Trustees passed a resolution suggesting that NJ Transit shut the station between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
That kicked off a lengthy period of discussions between Village officials and NJ Transit, said Trustee Sheena Collum. There were steps that NJT had to take before making the decision to close the station, and locks had to be installed on the doors.
Township officials have been coordinating with NJT’s social worker to alert homeless people to the new hours and to inform them of available nearby shelters. The town is also considering providing transportation to shelters for those who need it.
South Orange police will be responsible for opening and closing the station each day.
Chief James Chelel said while police received numerous complaints about people sleeping and panhandling in the station, officers responding to the reports have sometimes faced questioning and resistance from onlookers.
“People come up and ask us, ‘why are you bothering them?'” said Chelel. He also said that people have been giving the homeless in the station money and food.
“Everyone wants to be their brother’s keeper, but it just adds to the problem,” he said. Officers know where local shelters are and are able to direct people where to go.
The town has been trying to find a compassionate solution to the issue, said Collum, who noted that simply ejecting people in to the streets doesn’t solve the core problem. Collum said South Orange believes this will be a step in the right direction, and officials will continue to evaluate the plan as it moves ahead.