Hevesi, Sponsor of Subsidy to Stem Homeless Crisis, Condemns Cuomo’s MTA Letter

A Queens lawmaker who has long championed a rental subsidy to stem the state’s homeless crisis, condemned a “Trumpian” letter from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the MTA, which urged the transit agency to do more to stop homeless New Yorkers from sleeping in subway cars.

“It’s absurd, the notion that he, the governor, who should be stopping the homeless crisis from growing, is telling an agency that he controls that they’re not doing enough,” said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi. “It’s the height of hypocrisy and very Trumpian.”

Hevesi has sponsored a bill to create the Home Stability Support program, a rental subsidy that would enable families at risk of eviction to avoid becoming homeless

“The man who is single handedly letting the homeless crisis grow for his own benefit is still helping the crisis metastasize,” Hevesi continued.

Homeless New Yorkers and Advocates Question Cuomo’s Call to Crackdown on Subway Transients

A letter from Gov. Andrew Cuomo instructing the MTA to address “the increasing problem of homelessness on the subways” has prompted questions from homeless New Yorkers, advocates and transit workers who wonder why the person with power over housing and social service policy is passing the buck to a transportation agency.

The Coalition for the Homeless, the state’s leading advocacy organization, reported that 133,284 different people, including more than 45,600 children, spent at least one night in a New York City municipal homeless shelter last fiscal year.

On July 18, there were 58,164 people, including 20,861 children, in municipal shelters, according to the Department of Homeless Services’ most recent daily census. An untold number of unstably housed men, women and children whose names do not appear on an apartment lease stay with family, friends and associates, or sleep in privately run shelter settings, like church basements.

Cuomo, however, seemed to refer to the relatively small, but very visible, percentage of homeless individuals who sleep on the street or in public spaces, like the subway system. They have fallen through holes in the most basic social safety net — temporary, emergency housing.

“Homeless people often pose a danger to themselves and others,” Cuomo said in the letter. “Let’s actually focus on helping the homeless, rather than political posturing. This is not an issue of helping the homeless or the subway riders; that is a false choice. We must serve both.”

Today’s Read: California Officials Look to New York ‘Right to Shelter’ Policy

New York City’s right to shelter is a critical, life-saving emergency resource. Thanks to this right, which was established through litigation brought by the Coalition’s founders, 61,129 men, women, and children were able to sleep in shelters last night instead of facing the dangerous summer heat on the streets of a sweltering city. As the Coalition continues to urge the City and State to create more permanent housing for a record number of homeless New Yorkers and to implement policies to prevent and end homelessness, we also acknowledge that it is essential for all of our homeless neighbors to have ready access to a safe place to sleep indoors, sheltered from the elements and harm that visits those living outside.

California, which has been struggling to address mass homelessness in recent years, is now considering a version of New York City’s right to shelter. Currently, an estimated 90,000 of California’s 130,000 homeless people are unsheltered, while the vast majority of homeless New Yorkers sleep in shelters. The proposal would ensure that there is a shelter bed for any Californian who needs one. However, one key difference is that some elected officials in California have proposed requiring homeless people to accept shelter if it is offered – an ill-advised strategy that would likely push vulnerable people away from services and supports instead of engaging them.

Benjamin Oreskes wrote about the proposals in the Los Angeles Times, and highlighted the need for permanent housing so that people can move out of shelters and into homes of their own:

Advocates say the right-to-shelter requirement saves lives by keeping the most vulnerable people off city streets, where cold winters and hot summers can be deadly. Even in L.A., where sunshine and mild temperatures are typical, more people died of causes related hypothermia last year than in New York City.

“The right to shelter itself is the most valuable aspect of the system,” said Joshua Goldfein, a lawyer who works on the Homeless Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society of New York. “It means that there is always a bed for someone, and that enables the city to engage with people in a way that they know there will be a place for them if they’re willing to come in off the street.”

New York City didn’t adopt a legal right-to-shelter policy by choice. The requirement came about in 1981, two years after it was sued for turning away a man from a homeless shelter because of a lack of space. The city and state of New York were forced to enter a consent decree, requiring that officials offer a bed to any homeless person who requests one.

Still others question the wisdom of taking the extra step to require homeless people to come indoors. In New York City, efforts to create that expectation have not come to fruition.

Instead, the city has created a new type of shelter called a “safe haven.” Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director at the New York Coalition for the Homeless, described them as shelters that “take people where they’re at.” She said there are more than 1,000 beds in these safe havens citywide in addition to more conventional shelter set-ups.

“New York City has done a very good job of building a different shelter model,” she said. “To require the homeless to come into shelters is just going to push them deeper underground and into hiding. It’s the wrong thing to do.”

Another fear is that building a huge shelter system will lead to homeless people spending months or even years moving from emergency unit to emergency unit — and never into permanent housing.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also has said he wants to build 15,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next 15 years, but progress has been slow.

“We have people who have lived in shelters for years and years and years. It’s not what anyone envisions as a proper fate,” Nortz said. “People don’t thrive living crammed together.”

Whether in the deadly cold of winter or the equally dangerous conditions of a heatwave, the right to shelter saves lives – but the ultimate solution to homelessness lies in building a sufficient supply of affordable and supportive housing to ensure that those who are or become homeless have a safe, permanent home they can afford. To fully address homelessness, every level of government must invest in the production of new affordable and supportive homes specifically built to house homeless families and individuals. That is why our House Our Future NY Campaign urges Mayor de Blasio to finally address homelessness by following our recommendation to build at least 24,000 new units of deeply subsidized, affordable housing for homeless households through his Housing New York 2.0 plan, and set aside at least 6,000 more apartments for homeless New Yorkers through the preservation of already-occupied housing, for a total of 30,000 units. Only then will homeless New Yorkers be provided with a pathway out of homelessness.

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