Sunday night, New York State Governor Cuomo signed an executive order:
“…to protect homeless individuals from inclement winter weather where temperatures decline to 32 degrees or below,” governor Cuomo directed “all local social service districts, police agencies including the New York State Police, and state agencies” to “move such individuals to the appropriate sheltered facilities” – even if those individuals are “unwilling or unable” to go to shelter.
In other words, when it’s cold outside, even if you’re not breaking any laws, cops can take you to a shelter against your will.
Needless to say, folks who actually live on the streets had a lot to say about that:
“Putting people in shelter 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. Homeless people need housing, their own place. Not someone telling them when to sleep and what to eat. I’ve been on the street for thirty years so I know how it is – 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. They’re hurting us. You want to take people, snatch them up, put them somewhere they don’t want to be, like an animal? Just because we can’t afford to pay rent? We’re not animals. We’re human beings. Media talks about homeless people being dangerous, being criminals – well, if the cops leave us alone, we’ll be alright. But now you’ve got trigger-happy police messing with us all the time, waking us up every five minutes so we’re walking around sleep-deprived, throwing away our possessions – this executive order will just put more cops in our face, give them new ways to mess with us, and that won’t help the situation. If you really want to help, get them somewhere they can be safe. The Mayor and the Governor keep pushing us, but we’ve been pushed too far. And we’ll fight back. Peacefully – but there’s a lot of us, and they don’t want us sleeping outside Gracie Mansion or the Governor’s Office.”
But it wasn’t just people on the street who were upset! Many shelter residents were just as outraged… by this blatant proposal to violate people’s rights, and by the governor’s failure to address the real causes of homelessness:
“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. These politicians don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re competing to get their names in the papers, while we suffer. Instead of violating our constitutional rights, the governor needs to help us get out of homelessness. All this money being wasted on shelter needs to go to permanent housing.”