As brutal winter storms make their way to the Northeast, New York City residents brace themselves for the bitter winter weather. Recognizing the severity of these storms, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that homeless people be forcibly removed off the streets in freezing temperatures.
The order calls for the mandatory relocation of homeless people: once the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, a homeless person found living on the streets must involuntarily move into a shelter.
According to The Huffington Post, this executive order may be the only one of its kind. No other city or state has issued this type of government intervention when it comes to the homeless population.
Concerned for the health and safety of homeless individuals, Cuomo had one main goal in mind: “We have to get people in off the streets,” he said.
The order received immediate backlash. Concerns were raised regarding the “forcible removal” of homeless people from the streets, stating that the Governor is advocating for the homeless in all the wrong ways.
“Put simply, being homeless is not a crime,” said Mary Brosnahan, president of the Coalition for the Homeless in New York. She urged that forcible measures would push “the most marginalized homeless men and women further away from the very networks needed to engage them.”
New York State law says that a police officer or outreach worker can take people from the street “only if they appear to be in imminent danger or display signs of mental illness.” Current law does not state that it is legal to do so if a person does not meet those requirements.
Many people continue to argue that Cuomo’s proposed efforts are an incorrect way to deal with the city’s growing homeless population. Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said “The approach of the order is misguided,” and that although Cuomo is acknowledging the need for reform, his tactics are a temporary solution to a pervasive problem.
An article from the New York Post claims that homeless shelters are so full, people are being held in city hospitals as a way to seek refuge from the cold. According to the article, there are homeless New Yorkers staying a decontamination unit at a hospital in Queens.
Hospitals already face a serious overcrowding issue. Many people have turned to urgent care facilities instead of waiting hours in a hospital ER, as the average wait time at an urgent care center is 15 minutes.
“The decontamination unit is not a place for homeless people to sleep. It’s for emergencies,” said Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd. His team members work as safety officials in the hospital.
Due to the overcrowding of both hospitals and shelters, the issue of where to house the homeless remains hotly debated. Cuomo’s order, however misguided, was a much needed response to the nearly 4,000 New Yorkers living on the streets.