Say what you will about New York governor Andrew Cuomo, but you can't say he's not a humanitarian.
With the temperatures finally falling below freezing, later than usual for the winter season, Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order over the weekend, mandating that homeless people would be sheltered from the harsh temperatures. Like, can you really blame him?
It wasn't so long ago that something called "Code Blue" was instituted as a means for finding emergency shelters for the homeless and destitute during the winter months, the better to protect them from the risk of hypothermia and frostbite, among other things. In fact, Code Blue is in effect tonight as I write. For example, Joseph's House, based in the hometown, has added 30 extra beds to provide comfort for the homeless.
But, there is a glaring problem. According to a report in Monday's New York Daily News, some homeless people would rather put their health at risk and sleep in the biting cold, rather than accept a night with a roof over their heads. Some feel that Cuomo stepped over the line by mandating they be sheltered. New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio also believes Cuomo overstepped his authority. Then again, relations between NYC and Albany have been, ah, frosty ever since DiBlasio became mayor, if not too much before then.
As I've written in the past, some homeless people here in the upstate half of the state prefer to be homeless. I honestly don't get the rationale. They're more than willing to avoid responsibilities that would be natural to most folks, like paying bills. Some of these destitute souls waste whatever money they have on cheap beer that can be bought for at least a dollar a can, then have the nerve to beg for change, claiming they need bus fare, when it's all but a given that they'd rather spend that change on the alcohol.
In one of my letters to The Record several months back, I suggested that the city of Troy look into developing an adult community center that would serve as a haven for the homeless, mostly to get them out of trouble. At the time, some of these folks were congregating----loitering, actually---in businesses like laundromats, ignoring signs that reminded that loitering was prohibited. Their excuse, of course, was looking for temporary shelter to get out of the cold. The owner of the laundromat responded by keeping his business locked up, and any customers that wanted to do their laundry would have to get the keys from the corner grocer next door. This went on the last two winters. Unfortunately, no one so far has taken the initiative to make the adult community center a reality. A couple of empty storefronts have just recently become available. One on 3rd Street, which I referenced not too long ago, and one on 4th, where a vegan pastry shop had recently closed. The city, under new Mayor Patrick Madden, should consider working with either Unity House and/or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which has bought up a large chunk of downtown properties in recent years, to make this project a reality. The community center, if it were to become a reality, would help ease the burden of, say, Joseph's House and Catholic Charities, or be part of either agency in a way, and be open year-round, not just in the winter.
The bottom line here, friends, is that while the governor's heart is in the right place, it's only the first step. While some homeless and their advocates are voicing their objections to the governor's plan, they're missing the bigger picture. The homeless are just as much citizens of the city as the rest of us. They're preference to remain homeless suggests resentment and/or distrust with city officials of past administrations, creating a perception that the politicos don't care about them. In order for that to be proven wrong, there has to be the following:
1. The development of the community center. As noted, this would be a joint effort among city officials and either RPI or one of the not-for-profit groups mentioned earlier. A friend of mine who works for Catholic Charities has told stories of having to call the police because of loitering, as some of the homeless use the front steps of the former St. Anthony's gym to congregate, again ignoring signs posted by the police. This goes hand-in-hand with.......
2. Re-educating the homeless to help reintegrate them as viable members of society. This includes finding them jobs and establishing housing for them. Northeast Career Planning, formerly the Workshop, expanded its scope a few years ago to enable able-bodied persons needing work to use their facilities to develop their skills before entering the workplace proper.
3. Building trust between the homeless and police and other officials. One of the keys to the governor's program is the safety of the homeless. Not all of them are mentally ill, though there exists the perception that most of them are. Getting them into not only a detoxification program, but also rehabilitative therapy, requires gentle persuasion, to show them that there is a better way of living. This would be the toughest part of the mission.
What do you think?