Police Officer Nelson Velez and former homeless man-turned-Homeless Outreach Worker Tommy McInnis worked together in the subways helping homeless people from 1993 to 2002. When they parted
in 2002, Nelson continued his assignment with the homeless outreach unit, using his inherited skills. He was walking in Tommy's' shoes, having been accepted as a good replacement by the same homeless
people that Tommy worked with before.
Tommy left MTA Connections after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11th, 2001. He trained for and later became an Emergency Medical Technician. He was now busy racing around midtown Manhattan in an ambulance, lights and sirens, responding to emergencies along with police and fire fighters. He now walked in Nelsons' shoes.
They remain friends to this day. Nelson retired from the police department in 2005 and Tommy continues to work as an EMT in Manhattan. They both still live in and work New York City.
In the Press
Last Stop: A Survivor’s Story
by Nelson Velez and Tommy McInnis, on Amazon.com, Xlibris.com
Reviewed by Reviewer Rob of Reviewer Magazine
This book’s about a real story of real people doing an important job in a real city, “The City.” New York is an amazing place. Nowhere else can you get the full spectrum of the human experience combined in one strip of real estate. There are larger, more populated metro centers, but none with the range of citizenry. Tommy McInnis and Nelson Valez worked the unkind streets of NYC assisting its most vulnerable and unlucky, the homeless. McInnis, now an EMT, was an MTA Connections outreach worker and Valez was an NYPD Transit Police Officer working the Homeless Outreach Unit. This book, written in the gritty street parlance of the town that fans of Law And Order have come to love, documents their story. It’s good to see a the tale told from this perspective. McInnis was once homeless but turned his fortune around. Too many people glance past the forgotten of society. It’s easy to say they live that way because they want to, that they deserve to because they choose that lifestyle due to drugs, alcohol or negative mental temperament. The homeless here in San Diego are a growing section of the community, with whole families sent curbside because of corrupt lending practices in the real estate mortgage industry. Here the homeless come west if they’re close to the coast. Interstate 10 dead ends at the beach and then it’s “OK, everyone off the bus, last stop!” This book provides at least one person’s answer to the question, “Where do you go from there?” RR
Article written by Kimberley Silverton for New York City Transit newsletter
August 10, 2010
“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.” Those were the words of Tommy McInnis in ’93, when his life began to turn around, the day he was hired by MTA Connections, Homeless Outreach Unit. Those were the words that McInnis and Nelson Velez lived and worked by as they helped get the homeless out of the subway system and in effect off of the streets. Their book, Last Stop: A Survivor’s Story tells the true tale of Velez and McInnis, a NYC Transit cop and an MTA outreach worker as they succeeded in getting thousands of homeless people off the streets and into better lives.
Velez began writing Last Stop himself, in 2004 and had to convince McInnis to share his story as well. “I was willing to take it to the grave,” said McInnis. “No one knew my story – not my family, not my friends.” Before Velez connected with Police Department Homeless Outreach Unit he was a NYC Transit cop who patrolled the subway systems and cleared them of danger and homeless people. But it was not his job to think about where they went after that. Before McInnis began working as a Homeless Outreach worker, he was one of the homeless that Velez had to clear out daily.
So when the two men were teamed up by MTA Connections, an unlikely partnership developed. Both were involved in getting the homeless off the streets and into more permanent situations but they did so in very different ways. McInnis personally identified with the homeless and was empathetic to their situation. In his words, “Street education is what I brought to the table,” and he therefore would not place the homeless in situations in which he would not place himself. One such situation many homeless try to avoid is the city shelter and many would prefer the raw conditions of the subway stations over the unpredictability of the shelters. In a 1989 NY Times article a homeless man is quoted as saying, “In the subway, you have to sleep with one eye open. In the shelter, you have to sleep with both eyes open.'' Since Velez handled his position as an outsider he was less empathetic but was able to sympathize from a professional distance. Velez acknowledges that despite these differences of opinion they made a good team.
Despite their devotion to their careers, the job was still not an easy one. As Velez points out, in the subway stations it is “Hot, dirty, noisy and unpredictable. There might be someone with violent tendencies.” “We’re invading their homes,” says McInnis “That is their home until we get them out of there.” Velez also mentions that for some subway inhabitants, there might even be warrants out for their arrest.
Velez cleared up a common misconception about homelessness. Being homeless isn’t a state of being, it isn’t something most people are born into but as Velez clarifies, “The minute you’re evicted, you’re considered homeless.” Entire families with children can be found resting in the subway stations or permanently living in the subway tunnels. A sad fact Velez also pointed out is that “25% of the homeless are persistently mentally ill.”
Even employed individuals can become homeless as McInnis’ situation has proven. In the book his daily routine is described: “He once had a job at a restaurant. When he went to work, he would run in fast. He hoped the other workers wouldn’t recognize that he was wearing the same clothes [as the day before]. He slept on the street, finding a spot just around the corner and a few blocks over from where he worked. He would always be looking over his shoulder, hoping someone else from work didn’t notice him or see where he was going.” McInnis was unable to retain that job, but he still managed life on the streets. “I learned the ropes,” says McInnis. “I got clothing from churches. They have supply trucks where you could come and actually make an order for what you need.”
“I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel until end of ’89,” recalls McInnis. But McInnis did eventually get back on his feet and one year after he had been hired by MTA Connections, he was sent with his supervisor and Velez to interview witnesses to a police shooting. A homeless man in Prospect Park was shot and killed by the police after pointing a gun at a police officer. McInnis thought to himself, “This is where I could have been.”
Even though their job involved dealing with human lives, Velez and McInnis both admitted to being desensitized at times. “If you got too attached, you can’t do your jobs,” says Velez. “I thought about them when I got home,” says McInnis. “But when you’re there you can’t feel sorry.” So why did they do it? Why devote so many years of their lives to helping the homeless? “It became my mission,” says Velez. “I felt responsible for them.” For McInnis, it was more for validation. “I spent years being homeless,” says McInnis. “Why did I go through it?” He believes so his experience can help others.
McInnis’ most memorable accomplishment is reuniting a homeless woman with her family. He had known the woman, Sheila from several encounters at a 34th St. Station. He says her daughter contacted MTA Connections and soon after, they located a sister in South Carolina. Sheila had been diagnosed with a fatal illness, but instead of dying alone in a subway tunnel, she passed away in a hospital, surrounded by her family.
Over the course of their careers, they helped several thousand people. As Velez points out they didn’t just improve the lives of the homeless but the NYC Transit commuters as well. “The riders are afraid,” says Velez. “We make it safer for them to ride.” went above and beyond their job requirements by keeping later hours than required and frequently bringing work home with them. Promotions came up over the years but both men decided against advancement. “I rather stay doing this,” says Velez. “Promotions are not as important.” McInnis left MTA Connections in 2002 and Velez retired from the NYPD in 2005.
By Brian Devoy on August 4, 2015
Fantastic story, once I started reading it I could not put it down. I highly recommend Last Stop.
By D.M. on March 24, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Loved the story!!!!
You think your job is hard? Imagine working overnight in New York City's subway stations and subway tunnels, seeking out homeless people and persuading them to come with you to hospitals and shelters for treatment. This is the story told by Nelson Velez and Tommy McInnis in their book, "Last Stop: A Survivor's Story." Nelson, a NYC Transit police officer, and Tommy, a civilian and former homeless man, were members of the MTA Connections Homeless Outreach Unit that sought to help the homeless by getting them off the streets and into various medical and counseling programs. This was challenging and often dangerous work, reaching out to the lost souls of New York's homeless community, many of whom suffer from drug and alcohol addictions and/or mental illness (in addition to various physical ailments). Nelson and Tommy and their co-workers spent their nights in New York's subway stations and trains, and even ventured into the perilous underworld of subway tunnels, where many people live in storerooms and utility rooms alongside the train tracks.
As you might expect, this can be grim subject matter, but Tommy's personal success story provides a much-needed sense of hope to the narrative. He came to the job after five years of homelessness in the same subway stations and tunnels that he would later patrol. In fact, he and Nelson learn to their surprise that their first meeting took place years earlier when Officer Velez would wake Tommy and other homeless folks in the subway station where they slept. Tommy later managed to get himself off the streets -- remarkably, without professional help -- by giving up alcohol and eventually finding a job and an apartment. After joining MTA Connections, his homeless experience equips him with a unique sensitivity for connecting with the team's homeless clients. He wins their trust by promising not to force them into any situation, such as a dangerous public shelter, that he would have avoided when he was homeless. Nelson has to overcome his initial misgivings about working with a former "skel," but Tommy soon earns his respect and they form a successful partnership.
Readers will inevitably find themselves hoping that all of the homeless people depicted in the book will somehow find the same happy ending that Tommy found for himself. Sadly, this is not always the case, as life on the street is brutal and unforgiving. But the success stories that do occur would not have happened without the intervention of Nelson and Tommy and the outreach team. "Last Stop" makes the case that programs like MTA Connections are vitally important in aiding the urban homeless, often giving such downtrodden people a chance -- maybe their last chance -- to turn their lives around.
"Last Stop: A Survivor's Story" will make you think about the damaged spirits that live within the homeless people that you see every day. It will also remind you not to judge anyone until you've walked a mile in his shoes.
By NJ Jaegers:
Tommy was the Homeless Whisperer and Nelson was a Good Cop. This book made me cry at times because of the brutal honesty about the homeless and the authors.
Having a brother who was NYPD (from 2000-2004 I believe) and a good friend who was an Lt. with the MTA police (at Penn Station for some time) I thought I had been told some interesting and sad stories of encounters with 'Skels'. This book humanizes the homeless of NYC from a perspective I would have never had. It was a great read and I feel like a greater person having learned what I've learned from this book. I am privileged to know one of the authors, and I look forward to meeting the other, so I can properly shake both of their hands. I will definitely be recommending this book to my friends.
Readers sound off!
Fastastic story. Looking at Tommy's picture, I can't see him having been homeless. To any person out there, read Last Stop: A Survivor's Story. You will look at homeless people in a very special way.
--Readers sound off!
It draws you in easy. A glimpse into a world that seems so unreal, yet is more real than most people want to know. Nice. --Readers sound off!
Beautiful! Just Beautiful!!! Nothing gives me more pleasure, on this day, to see how well you are. Keep it going...Now you're rolling. Much Love to you. --Readers sound off
Wow, Nelson. Honestly I like it so far. I'm really looking forward to the whole thing :)
--Readers sound off
Tommy, this is deep. I am always concerned and would like to know the stories of the homeless population in NYC. I am sooooo proud of you.
--Readers sound off
There is a screenplay adaptation of this book.
The script has won an award in the
News & Media
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Minding your Business TV show
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