Today’s Read: Cuomo Orders that Homeless Be Taken to Shelter in Freezing Weather

As the temperature begins to drop, New Yorkers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of the thousands of men and women who are living rough on the streets. Gov. Cuomo announced yesterday that he had signed an executive order requiring all local governments across the state to take homeless people off the streets and into shelters when the temperature dips below freezing. As The New York Times reported:

The order, which goes into effect early Tuesday, requires local governments to remove homeless people by force, if necessary, once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The governor’s order says that to protect public safety, “the state can take appropriate steps, including involuntary placement.”

News of the measure rippled across the state, eliciting a variety of responses from advocates even as it raised questions about how the order would be carried out. In New York City, the mayor’s office said the order appeared to duplicate what the city was already doing to protect homeless people during cold weather and questioned the legality of forcible removal, signaling yet another rift in the tense relationship between Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. “We support the intent of the executive order,” the mayor’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said in a statement, “but to forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather, as the governor has ordered, will require him to pass state law.”

The executive order states that homeless men and women would forcibly be taken to shelter when the temperature drops below freezing, but the Governor’s legal team later stated that only those deemed mentally unstable and a danger to themselves or others would be brought in. This, however, does not represent any change from the City’s current approach to outreach.

The sad fact is that far too many vulnerable men and women fear for their safety in the crowded, often chaotic shelter system – and forcing them into shelter against their will accomplishes nothing.

Thomas J. Main, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College who studies homelessness, said the order raised administrative challenges. “We’re talking about scooping people up who might be resistant,” he said. “And then what are you going to do? Restrain them at the shelter?”

The most effective solution to the problem of street homelessness is for the State to invest in housing-based solutions so that these men and women have a real way off the streets. In response to the Governor’s announcement, the Coalition for the Homeless issued this statement from President & CEO Mary Brosnahan:

“Despite the fact that his administration has started to backtrack on this claim, we have major concerns that the Governor’s order would forcibly move individuals against their will. Put simply, being homeless is not a crime. As we saw during the Giuliani years, aggressive measures only pushed the most marginalized homeless men and women further away from the very networks needed to engage them and help connect them with housing-based solutions.

“While we are heartened that the Governor has acknowledged the State’s role in providing life-saving shelter for vulnerable New Yorkers, his order does nothing to provide for the long-term mental and physical health needs of our neighbors without homes. The single most important step the Governor can take to stem the suffering on our streets is to join with the Mayor to forge a fourth NY/NY Housing Agreement, creating 30,000 units of supportive housing in New York City and an additional 5,000 statewide.”