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What Andrew Cuomo’s plan for homeless in cold needs to do

A person who appears to be homeless stands

A person who appears to be homeless stands on the corner of East 34th Street and Eight Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The cold has finally come, and with it comes worries about thousands of NYC residents who live on the streets.

In the past, advocates and outreach workers would encourage those individuals to come inside, get a hot meal, and spend the cold snap at a city shelter. If someone was mentally ill, or needed extra help, he or she could be forced to come off the streets. Now, workers may have further authority. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order effective today that says police and social services officials must move homeless people indoors when the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

On its surface, the order gives the city the power to protect residents who are most in need. It could save lives. Mayor Bill de Blasio said his programs are already doing much of what the order advocates, so city officials must do what they can to continue and expand their existing efforts to bring people in from the cold.

But the order is complicated and leaves more questions than answers. Cuomo’s order must be clarified, especially specifically who can be forced off the streets and how. Individuals must be treated with respect — their rights upheld, their possessions treated properly. They must be evaluated to determine whether they are mentally ill and can be taken indoors or whether they are not a danger to themselves and can make their own decisions. Some say they stay on the streets because the shelters are dirty, crowded or unsafe. While Cuomo talked yesterday about the need to improve shelters, that’s easier said than done — and it’s something de Blasio says he’s trying to fix, too.

Cuomo’s order came during a seemingly endless war of words with de Blasio, including finger-pointing about the homeless crisis. Even in that context, though, it can help to keep homeless New Yorkers safe and warm.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t answer the true homelessness crisis. Hopefully, Cuomo will address the need — for thousands of permanent, supportive housing units, and other affordable housing options — in his State of the State address next week. Then, homeless individuals finally might have a solution that meets their needs.


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