Homelessness Crisis Isn't Solved

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Governors and Mayors Snarl, but the Homelessness Crisis Isn't Solved - Jan 7, 2016 By Gabe Pressman
The French have a saying: the more the world changes, the more it stays the same.

I have been covering the homeless crisis in New York City for more than four decades. And, lamentably, the tragedy still eludes solution — and the politicians who grapple with this crisis are still fighting with each other.

The current leaders of our state and city, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, are feuding over responsibility and other issues. And, sadly, it’s something that has happened before, again and again.

Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, Koch and Dinkins tried to solve the problem and so did Governors Carey, Mario Cuomo and George Pataki. The Mayors and Governors clashed with each other — but, at the end of the day, there was no solution. Only harsh words and no end to the pathos on the streets.

It’s not that these politicians didn’t have compassion for the plight of the street people. I think they did but, somehow, they were continually frustrated in their attempts to solve the problem. Perhaps that bane of politicians, pride, kept them away from collaborating on a solution. Politicians tend to want credit and they don’t want blame. Indeed, no political leader has found the right answers or has the will to put them into action.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, like his father before him, is trying to do something right now. He has issued an executive order commanding police, state agencies and social service providers to seek out homeless people in the streets and, when the temperature falls below freezing, to force those deemed a danger to themselves into shelters.

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton are unimpressed by the governor’s order. They claim it doesn’t change the picture. They’re already tracking down homeless street people and, if necessary, forcing them into shelters.

The governor and the mayor have clashed repeatedly over the homeless crisis. Cuomo told the Times Monday: “Here’s the dirty little secret: If everyone is doing everything well, why is the homeless street population increasing and why is it worse than its been in years? Something has to be causing it and that’s the question that needs to be addressed.”

Yes. It’s the question that’s needed to be addressed for more than 35 years. And none of the wise men of yesterday or today have seemed equipped to solve it.

I know from interviewing single homeless people in the streets over the years that many are afraid to go into shelters because, they say, they are ripped off there, their belongings stolen and, sometimes, they are beaten up by other homeless people.

City Hall and Albany don’t like to admit that they can’t guarantee the safety of the people they are charged with protecting. But it seems to be a fact — I have heard it from the street people again and again.

What stands out to me is that, having seen the horror of homelessness in the freezing streets, it’s hard to understand how anyone can avoid being frightened out of his wits by living on those streets or the alternative, in a dangerous shelter.

If the homeless aren’t mentally ill before they’re forced to choose between these dangers, I would suspect they could be mentally ill after suffering the torments of such an existence.

Written by Gabe Pressman

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