Coalition for the Homeless Responds to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State Address

Compassion is Good. Fix the Shelters, Don’t Arrest the Homeless

Governor Cuomo today reminded New Yorkers that record homelessness is not acceptable and that it is our job as a compassionate society to reach out and help homeless people on the streets. We agree – the Coalition for the Homeless reaches out to homeless and hungry New Yorkers 365 nights per year with warm food, coats, and the offer of help to get off the streets. But forcibly detaining homeless New Yorkers who are reluctant to enter sometimes dangerous shelters as Gov. Cuomo suggests is a bad idea that ignores the real problem and what we know about how best to engage them with concrete help and voluntary services.

Instead of changing the mental hygiene law, the State should immediately reverse its harmful cuts to New York City’s emergency shelter system, and share equally with localities in the non-Federal cost of sheltering homeless families and individuals. The State’s failure to contribute equally to the shared obligation to provide shelter and services for an unprecedented number of New Yorkers in need left New York City to bear the bulk of the increased cost on its own in 2016, while the State avoided providing $176 million it should otherwise have supplied. The situation only got worse in 2017.

The State should also work cooperatively with the City to ensure shelters are safe, welcoming places that serve as the first step to getting the affordable housing resources our homeless neighbors need. Improving shelter conditions and accelerating the schedule for developing permanent supportive housing – not the threat of arrest or involuntary detention – is the only way to reduce street homelessness in New York.

Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy