NYAPRS: On Housing for the Homeless, Outreach over Coercion

NYAPRS Note: Here are some reactions to and clarifications about Governor Cuomo’s executive order directing authorities to remove homeless people from the streets and to take them to homeless shelters when the temperature falls below freezing.

First off, it’s important to re-emphasize the critical importance of efforts to protect homeless individuals, including those with serious behavioral health conditions, from the life-threatening bitter cold of winter and to thank the Governor for his leadership here.

Today’s Times highlights concerns by homeless people about concerns about conditions about the shelters that have dissuaded them from using them in the past as well as fears they have that efforts to get them into them will be experienced as harassment.  

The Daily News article demonstrates the Governor’s understanding of the importance of skilled outreach and the need to improve shelter conditions and, at the same time, clarifies that mental hygiene law does not permit homeless people to be forced to go to the shelters. That law does allow authorities to take individuals they deem to be putting themselves at risk due to a mental health condition to an emergency room for an evaluation that could lead to admission or a mix of medication and connection to treatment. But skilled outreach by trained police with mental health workers can obviate the need for coercion and NYAPRS continues to be very concerned about whether these will be afforded to homeless individuals with mental health conditions.   

NYAPRS is also very focused on Sheila Turner’s comment that the homeless most need permanent housing. We are hoping to see funding for additional beds in next week’s Executive Budget proposal and housing will once again be a top priority for our upcoming February 23rdAlbany Legislative Day.


Cuomo Misses Point, Homeless on Streets Say

By Nikita Stewart NY Times JAN. 4, 2016


….Homeless people need housing, “not someone telling them when to sleep and what to eat,” Sheila Turner, who is in her 50s and has been homeless for 30 years, said on Monday in East Harlem.


Ms. Turner and others who would be subject to Mr. Cuomo’s executive order called on the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, to create more units of permanent, affordable housing. Ms. Turner said she feared the governor’s directive would encourage harassment.


The order instructs local governments across the state to remove people, with force if necessary, when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below and says “involuntary placement” is an option. The governor’s chief counsel later said people who are deemed to be mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others could be removed, but such action would not be taken against other homeless people…..


….Most of the homeless people interviewed said they preferred the streets to shelters because of poor conditions and theft.


Teri LaRocca, 53, who has multiple sclerosis and spinal arthritis, uses a wheelchair and said there was little accessibility for disabled people in the city’s shelters for women. Ms. LaRocca said she would consider staying in a more welcoming shelter. “The elevators don’t work,” she said. “There’s nothing that makes it easier.”


Eli Rosenberg and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.





Bratton, de Blasio say Cuomo’s Executive Order Doesn’t Change How NYC Handles Homeless On Streets In Cold Weather

BY Jennifer Fermino, Rocco Parascandola, Erin Durkin  New York Daily News  January 5, 2016


….Cuomo trumpeted his order as a mandatory move to get all homeless people off the streets when the mercury falls below freezing, but on Monday stressed that it requires engagement with the homeless population.


“When it becomes freezing, literally it’s a public health and safety matter,” he said. “We have to get people in off the streets. To get people in off the streets, you need an outreach effort, that goes out and reaches out to them, and then they have to be brought to a shelter system that they are willing to go to.”


The mayor’s top official dealing with the homeless, Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, stressed in a briefing with reporters Monday that court rulings dating to the Koch administration bar involuntarily taking people off the street unless there’s an imminent danger.


“We will comply with state law,” Banks said. “The mental hygiene law does not give any basis for a one-size-fits-all approach.”


He also said that when someone is in danger, they must be held in a mental health facility. “They cannot be forcibly taken to a shelter,” he said.


Banks cited a statement by Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David saying the order does not require involuntary commitment of competent individuals…


Coalition for the Homeless President Mary Brosnahan saw cause for worry. ….”we have major concerns that the governor’s order would forcibly move individuals against their will. Put simply, being homeless is not a crime,” she said.