Analysis: Beating Up on the Homeless - NBC New York

Analysis: Beating Up on the Homeless

Just in time for Christmas!



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    As the days get colder and darker -- and the city's budget woes don't improve -- the Bloomberg administration was determined to force homeless people seeking shelter that they were truly homeless.

    But it’s hit a snag. Confronted by angry voices from the City Council and a lawsuit by advocates for the homeless, the administration is delaying the plan for now.

    Just in time for Christmas! This is the season that many people celebrate the story of a homeless family that sought shelter.

    What’s most difficult to understand is why City Hall has instituted a get-tough policy on the homeless. These are the most vulnerable of New Yorkers. It seems cruel to make the rules tougher for these New Yorkers during a time of economic troubles.

    But what’s most exasperating is that the city is setting itself up as a kind of Supreme Court on homelessness. The plan envisions bureaucrats deciding whether people seeking shelter don’t have anywhere else to go.

    The bureaucrat inquisitors will be asking: Is there no mother, brother, sister, uncle, friend available? Where did you last stay? How can the people who generously gave of their homes previously now deny you a place to stay?

    When Bloomberg took office nearly a decade ago, there were 31,000 homeless people in New York. In 2004, the homeless population had risen to 38,000. The mayor pledged to cut the number by two-thirds.The Coalition for the Homeless reports that the homeless population is now 41,204. It’s rising at an alarming rate.

    How would the city enforce this policy? Would the NYPD’s detective force be ordered to track down the malefactors who cheat? Will we seek help from the CIA ? The absurdity of the city’s new policy is clear on its face. What’s difficult to understand is how Mayor Bloomberg, who has shown himself to be generous to charitable institutions on a personal level, can impose a policy so harsh.

    Joel Berg, leader of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, tells me: “The mayor’s approach to homelessness seems to be to deny its existence. ... Wishing a problem away doesn’t make it go away. He has promised there will be no more panhandlers, as though he can wish them off the streets. He even denies they exist anymore, and we know that isn’t so."

    "The idea that people are cheating when they seek shelter is preposterous," Berg adds. "Nobody who has spent any time in a homeless shelter wants to go back to one."

    He says the solution to homelessness and hunger is a combination of affordable housing, a social safety net and jobs.

    The prophet Isaiah spoke of our goals as: “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.”

    These are words that should inspire our leaders and ourselves.