The City’s Plan to Push Homeless New Yorkers Back Into Shelters

New York City – the Big Apple, the city of dreams – has been a tourist attraction for decades. People flock here from all over the world to gaze at the beautiful scenery and skyscrapers. When the pandemic hit last year, tourism and commuting to the big city came to a screeching halt to stop the spread of COVID-19. The homeless community was placed in hotels. More than a year later, they’re being kicked out.

In an effort to bring back the hustle and bustle of the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio has put together a transfer of over 8,000 homeless people to group shelters. Over the past few months, there have been complaints of assaults, people blocking, destruction of public spaces and more committed by homeless people. Currently, the city has a population of 2,000 people living on the streets, subways, and anywhere they can find shelter.

While the city’s Department of Homeless Services says it’s working to ensure they find homes for these people, the process is said to be slow and limited. Instead, encampments and their belongings are being torn down and taken away. Advocates for the homeless say this method of trying to get people off the streets does more harm than good and pushes people from accepting help. 

“They are trying to make life so miserable on the streets that people will come into shelters, but that is a cruel and ineffective approach,” said Josh Dean, the founder of Human.nyc to The New York Times. While the homeless services department claims they are not just throwing belongings away but rather “carefully assess” each site, Max Goren, a resident of Washington Square Park feels otherwise. 

“At least once a week, a sanitation truck rolls up,” Mr. Goren, 34, said in July. “If you’re not there to say, ‘Hey, that’s mine’, everything goes in the back,” Goren told The New York Times. Goren believes this is the city’s effort to get them to leave but he questions where would they go.

Tom Harriss, a retired police officer and founder of the Times Square Alliance, helped to create Community First, a program which refers people to nonprofits that help shelter and rehabilitate those suffering with mental illness. Rather than pushing homeless people out of areas, they offer them food, clothes and other resources, but only if they want them. The program’s volunteers work with an approach to not push people but rather to offer opportunities for when they’re ready to take them. 

Richard Birthright was approached by Community First when he told them about his recent job loss in North Carolina. He moved back to New York where he wound up sleeping on the streets because of few options for long-term housing for someone who had been homeless less than a year. Community First worked with him to build a resume and he was quickly hired as a street cleaner in Times Square. 

According to the homeless and their advocates the only thing they’re truly looking for is a proper place to live. Shelters provide housing but space is limited and therefore there is no sense of privacy. The best options usually include bedrooms that house 10 to 20 people at a time. 

However, some business leaders believe this approach of persuasion won’t always work. Barbara Blair, the president of the Garment District Alliance, advocated for removing homeless people from hotels into proper housing and shelters. She told The New York Times the city “utterly failed in terms of providing supportive housing for people who are very, very ill.”

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