NY governor's homeless order does little in New York City on first night

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2016 5:42 PM

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's order to move all homeless people off of the streets during frigid nights had scant impact in New York City on its first day on Tuesday other than fuel an ongoing political battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio, advocates said.

City workers placed 97 people living on city streets in shelters and hospitals overnight, as temperatures dropped below freezing, according to official figures. The number was not unusual, city officials said.

"We are already carrying out the requirements of the executive order," De Blasio spokeswoman Karen Hinton said. The order "merely requires all New York state localities follow many of the same requirements as New York City."

Cuomo's office did not respond to requests for comment.

The city already provides emergency shelter to homeless people during freezing nights as part of its long-running Code Blue program, Hinton said, adding that the facilities are required to stay open all day and night regardless of the temperature.

Homeless advocates agreed that the order, which applies to the whole state, appeared to change little for New York City.

"There was no wave of folks coming in from the cold. It was another night of services in New York City,” said Alexander Horwitz, a spokesman for Doe Fund, which operates three shelters for adult men in the city.

Giselle Routhier, policy director for advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, said Cuomo should direct funds to creating more affordable units to house the homeless, including those suffering from mental illness.

Forcing people off the streets temporarily would do little to help the city's rising homeless population, she said.

The city, which counts about 58,000 homeless people sleeping in shelters on any given night and between 3,000 to 4,000 people living on the streets, last month doubled the number of its homeless outreach workers. De Blasio also announced a commitment to create 15,000 new units of supportive housing for the homeless.

Cuomo's executive order, which was announced Sunday, was seen as undermining the actions by De Blasio. The pair have publicly sparred over a series of issues since De Blasio took office two years ago.

Advocates said they hope this round of quarreling, however, will be helpful to their cause.

"I am hopeful that the political maelstrom will bring attention to the conditions in the shelters," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Lieberman said she also hoped the back-and-forth between New York's political leaders would draw attention to problems of housing affordability in the city.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)