NYC mayor lacks compassion for homeless - Coalition staffer

Tom Boland (
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 00:15:50 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  USA Today - December 17, 1999 - Page 30A


     By Shelly Nortz

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plan on homelessness is dangerous and
contradictory. Instead of proposing permanent and effective solutions,
Giuliani wants to evict homeless people from shelters and arrest many of
the streetbound homeless. His plan will not create one new home or one new
job for a homeless person.

The glaring contradiction between the two new policies betrays Giuliani's
real motive. Clearly, this is about sounding tough in campaign sound bites
and not about compassion.

Imagine how a homeless person who has fallen through every safety net might
react when he awakes to find the police offering him a ride to a shelter,
handcuffs at the ready.

Giuliani's plan threatens the 20-year-old legal right to shelter for
homeless New Yorkers. In 1979, the Coalition for the Homeless brought a
class action lawsuit on behalf of Robert Callahan and other homeless men
sleeping on the streets of New York City. On Christmas Eve, the New York
State Supreme Court ordered the city and state to provide emergency shelter
to homeless men, and, in 1981, approved a consent decree establishing the
right to shelter for all of the city's homeless men. The court was
concerned that the homeless were suffering frostbite injuries and that some
had frozen to death in recent winters.

In later litigation, the shelter right was granted to homeless women and
families, too. The coalition has returned to court repeatedly to enforce
the decree when there have been too few shelter beds to meet the need and
when shelter conditions have become especially dangerous. Just two years
ago, the Giuliani administration was ordered to open immediately 200 new
shelter beds for homeless people whom the city had failed to accommodate
during the coldest winter months.

A truly compassionate approach would bring the streetbound homeless,
particularly those who are most troubled, into safe, small shelters with
legitimate outreach. To be effective, outreach should be conducted not by
police officers, but by trained professionals experienced in engaging the
homeless mentally ill and helping them to move to supportive permanent

If Mayor Giuliani wants to claim that his homeless policies are
compassionate, he should embrace effective solutions by increasing funding
for outreach, working with the state to build 10,000 units of supportive
housing for the homeless mentally ill and, most important, leave the right
to shelter intact so that the homeless have a safe and warm place to go.

Shelly Nortz is deputy director for policy for the Coalition for the
Homeless, a non-profit organization that serves as a court-appointed
monitor for New York City's shelters.


**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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