New York City has a problem with apparently homeless people sleeping in ATM vestibules at night. (I have been led to understand that we are supposed to say “unsheltered” or “unhoused” these days. However, I only committed to making The New Leaf Journal a family-friendly site, not one that keeps up with the latest AP style-guidelines.) This has been a problem since well before 2020 – I witnessed it often in lower Manhattan in the 2010s when I was out in the evening. I have been led to understand that the problem has grown worse in the last few years, but I do not personally walk by many ATM vestibules at night these days.

Regardless of one’s views on the best policies and practices related to homelessness (or unshelteredness or unhousededness, whatever it’s supposed to be), there are obvious problems with turning a blind eye to, or outright encouraging, men to sleep or otherwise camp out in New York City ATM vestibules at night. (I say men because approximately 100% of the people I have seen camped out in ATM vestibules at night were men – take as you will.) Some people may understandably be concerned about having men sleeping, or pretending to sleep, in a small enclosed space at night where people are handling money or debit cards in the open in order to use the ATM. A March 22, 2023 AM NY article titled Cashing out: Banks across NYC cut ATM hours, boost security to ease customer fears, authored by Ms. Gabriele Holtermann and Michael Dorgan of AM NY, suggests that many people concur with me that allowing camping in ATM vestibules at night is a subpar policy decision by New York City and the major international banks which take a hands off approach to ensuring the safety of their premises. The article even cites to a number of incidents of criminality perpetrated by criminals taking advantage of the lack of any security or law enforcement at ATM vestibules at night, such as the case of the January 19, 2023 hot coffee attack, the August 2021 machete attack, and the February 2020 assault of a woman. However, while the majority of voices in the article are in accord with the views I hold on the matter , one gentleman’s voice stood alone, articulating the ideals of what I describe as do gooderism, where one does something that makes him or her feel good without much regard to the effect it actually has on the recipient of the good deed, much less anyone else.

The article quoted New York City Mayor Eric Adams articulating for the benefit of the do gooders in his midst why having men sleep (or pretend to sleep) in ATM vestibules could cause people using the ATMs to reasonably feel physically unsafe:

People don’t want to walk into the ATM and see someone urinating, see someone screaming and yelling, and that is what I’m saying I need [it] to stop because I don’t want my ATMs closing down. I don’t want people leaving our city. We have to create an environment that people are safe and they feel safe.

Eric Adams

Now no solution was or has been offered by the mayor. But the statement is reasonable on the merits.

The AM NY article then quoted real New York residents who were displeased with the ATM vestibule situation.

Ms. Madiha Iqbal of Long Island City:

Sometimes there are homeless people inside [the vestibule] so it’s very hard to go inside at night. You feel like someone is going to mug you and take your money, this is scary.

Ms. Wahiha Iqbal, who was with Ms. Madiha Iqbal:

Mostly the drug people are around in the nighttime. It’s scary, especially for women.

Ms. Madiha Iqbal makes a very important point here in noting that she finds drug abusers hanging around ATM vestibules at night to be particularly concerning as a woman. One could imagine why some women may be more concerned about strange men staking out ATM vestibules in the evening than your average non-infirm man would feel, even granting that there have been recent incidents where men were victims of ATM-situated criminality. One could see the elderly or otherwise infirm, regardless of sex, as also having special concern about using occupied ATM vestibules in the evening hours.

Mr. Giovanni Neidda in Union Square, Manhattan, commented:

Too many drug addicts, bums sleeping inside the ATMs. And that’s not safe.

(I am not sure if I would want to withdraw money in Union Square during the day either. To be honest, I am glad that I have not been in Union Square for a while.)

Mr. Neidda noted that he had not seen or heard of many incidents at ATMs in his area, but added that “if there’s nobody there and it’s late you feel vulnerable.” Society is too concerned with feelings these days. “Safety” has been used to shut down speech or activities that the person who is complaining does not approve of for reasons unrelated to physical safety. (Good luck trying to object to law-ignoring e-bikes, marijuana, or untrained dogs, however.) However, having concerns about your safety when there are men hanging out in ATM vestibules all night while you or people you know have to use them to make transactions involving debit cards and cash is entirely reasonable.

However, the gentleman I referred to earlier, who wisely chose to be quoted anonymously, had a different take. A scorching hot take. A take dripping with virtue. Prepare to be in awe:

I mean, I am very aware of my surroundings, and I have gone into ATMs relatively late in the evening. And there might be people sleeping within them, but I still use it. I don’t have any fear.”

Good for you man. I personally was never in a situation where I felt threatened by someone lounging or sleeping (or pretending to sleep) in an ATM vestibule. However, I I have ended to avoid ATM vestibules whenever and where ever there is no one present except for one or more strange lounging guys who are clearly not engaged in any banking activities. With that being said, that I have not been in a situation where I felt personally in danger does not mean that I approve of the practice.

The anonymous gentleman however…

We’re just getting through winter, so I want them to be sheltered and protected as best as possible, I’m fine with it. I’ve had conversations with homeless people. There’s a few that I sort of support in my neighborhood.

I struggle to see how sleeping in a Chase ATM vestibule is being “sheltered and protected as best as possible.” In fact, I dare say I was under the impression that when I paid my taxes a couple of months ago, I was paying for New York City services to get homeless people off the streets (and out of Subway stations and cars) at night, especially during the winter. Perhaps all of that money has been spent on high end hotels for migrants, but I think there must be some funds left over. Why does this anonymous gentleman think that ATM vestibules are the best place for homeless people to sleep? Is it so he can tell us all how cool he is with the situation? Why do the interests of those who want to spend the night in ATM vestibules take precedence over those who want to actually use the ATMs without some random guy skulking in the corner monitoring their transaction? Instead of advocating for homeless people to set up residence in ATM vestibules, why not help (if he insists) by assisting them in taking advantage of services offered by New York City and many charitable organizations? That not only connects them with agencies and organizations that are actually equipped (supposedly, mileage may vary in practice) to help them, but also does not encourage loitering around ATMs that ordinary law-abiding citizens may need to access at night for genuine ATM-related purposes.

(I will add that a disproportionate number of daytime panhandlers seem to find themselves in front of ATM vestibules, soliciting handouts, getting in the way of, or otherwise annoying people who may be fumbling with money or cards for reasons entirely unrelated to wanting to do dole out charity. This, even without more, is enough to make one suspicious about why certain people choose to hang out around ATMs at night.)

New York City is unlikely to do anything about the ATM-camping situation (notwithstanding the Mayor’s accurate description of the problem). Thus, reality suggests that it is incumbent on banks, some of which have a bit of cash-on-hand (there is a good critique of Chase in the article), to ensure the security of the premises of the ATM vestibules that they keep open at all hours. Banks should also make it easy for customers and ordinary New Yorkers to find out which vestibules will be open at night and which vestibules will be closed. At a minimum, there should not be situations when someone legitimately using the ATM at night, whether this is someone returning home from work, going out for the evening, or something else, is alone in the ATM vestibule with anyone other than another individual present for legitimate ATM-related purposes or a contractor or employee of the bank.