Homeless man in Harlem (156037)
Homeless man in Harlem Credit: Bill Moore

“We’re living with the mistakes that past mayors have made, all the hand-outs to landlords that made this city unaffordable, but this mayor and this governor aren’t helping,” said homeless woman Sheila Turner.

Having lived on the streets for 30 years, Turner’s reaction to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order requiring that the homeless be forced into shelters when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit was not positive, to say the least.

“Putting people in shelters is like putting them in a cage,” said Sheila Turner, a member of Picture the Homeless. “You can’t imagine the things that have happened to people in there. How they’ve been hurt. “

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are at it again, with a war of words over how to handle the city’s homeless. However, while the two take schoolyard-style verbal swipes at each other, the problem of people being on the street isn’t getting better.

Sunday, Cuomo issued an executive order that not only requires homeless individuals be forced into shelters when temperatures go below 32 degrees but also also requires homeless shelters to extend their hours of operations so that those without shelters can remain indoors.

Local law enforcement will do outreach to the homeless to make sure they go to shelters. Cuomo said New York State has a comprehensive system of more than 77,000 emergency shelter beds for the homeless and will assist local social services districts if they are lacking facilities, resources or expertise.

“It’s getting even colder now, frigid weather is coming in,” Cuomo said Monday. “To leave people on the street—we have to do everything we can to reach out to them and bring them into a shelter.”

The governor added that homeless people don’t want to go into shelters because the shelters are “dirty and unsafe.” Taxpayers pay $1 billion per year for the shelter system.

“It’s not right to leave brothers and sisters on the street corner,” Coumo said, “It’s not right to leave children on the street corner. It’s not right to have a shelter system that is so dirty and unsafe, that people have to stay on the street corner.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio is firing back at Cuomo, saying that New York City’s “Code Blue” system is already in place to get homeless people off the street during winter months.

“To forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather, as the Governor has ordered, will require him to pass state law,” de Blasio’s camp said in a statement to the media.

De Blasio’s administration announced Wednesday that between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, the city made 97 placements from streets and into shelters, safe havens, hospitals and other indoor locations. More 100 people also entered NYC Health + Hospitals emergency rooms to get out of the cold and receive medical care.

The mayor used outreach teams across agencies and city-contracted nonprofit providers.

“As in previous years, city outreach teams scoured neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs last night to help bring New Yorkers out of the cold,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “City employees are saving the lives and protecting the health of homeless individuals across the city. Our shelters are open and prepared to offer warmth, food and other services.”

This week, de Blasio announced a three-year plan to phase out and permanently end the city’s 15-year program of placing homeless families into “cluster” shelter units—apartments, many of which should be low-rent housing.

New shelter capacity is being added with a new model that includes affordable permanent housing, flexible shelter space and community space in the same building.

Although the idea of getting homeless people off the street during the winter might sound like a good idea, the concept of police or anyone forcing homeless people into a shelter is not only unjustified but also illegal.

No law dictates that homeless can’t live on the street or forces them into shelters. Critics say that police could use their authority to brutalize homeless people to force them off the streets.

In December, the AmNews reported that three homeless men are suing the city because NYPD officers and Department of Sanitation workers threw away their personal possessions, including medication, family photos and birth certificates and other important documents while they were sleeping outside.

“People need to know that it’s cold in here, too,” said Arvernetta Henry, a member of Picture the Homeless currently residing in a city shelter. “The city wastes more than $3,000 a month on my shelter bed, but they don’t have blankets. They don’t have heat. If someone knew that they’d be warm, that they’d be safe, that they wouldn’t wake up with someone standing over their bed with a baseball bat, they might actually want to go to shelter.”