Of all the people the snowstorm barraged on the East Coast over the weekend, homeless people were the ones who were put in the most danger. In particular, New York City has a record number of homeless children in New York City who are often exposed to the elements. In response to winter conditions, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on Jan. 3 requiring local government officials, including New York City, to forcibly place the homeless into shelters when temperatures dip to 32 degrees fahrenheit or below. While motivated by good intentions, Cuomo’s order is a troubling and ineffective action that fails to address the larger issues of homelessness.
While officials by and large were able to move homeless people into safe housing before the storm hit, it failed to address the root causes. Gentrification is pushing New Yorkers out of their homes, and low wages can no longer support the skyrocketing price of rent in the city. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the city’s homelessness problem is getting worse — even the basic need for housing has become an expensive commodity.
In fairness, Cuomo is not solely to blame for failing to address New York City’s rising homelessness. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who criticized Cuomo’s edict, has also struggled to make a dent in the homeless population. De Blasio’s current method of deflecting blame onto the policies of Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, simply does not solve any problems. Rhetoric does not open new shelters in place of the ones that were closed. It does not provide jobs or increased income for those who need it most and it does not restore New York’s many dilapidated shelters from the sorry state they are usually found in.
No one can claim that the frigid sidewalk is a better home than a heated building, but the city’s shelters are hardly a welcome escape for the homeless. In fact, many would prefer to spend the night at a train station or on a street corner rather than face the deplorable conditions they have witnessed in shelters. Dirty rooms, disgusting food, rodent infestations and rampant crime can easily make the housing more unbearable than the weather, a condition Cuomo has vowed to reform but done little to change.
The governor should take care not to pat himself on the back for this singular effort, which does not address the main causes of homelessness and only forces the most underprivileged and neglected into bad conditions. It ultimately does little to solve New York’s homelessness problem, and further puts off true reform. Cuomo’s executive action is an emergency measure, but New York City needs a solution to help solve a problem that won’t melt away with the snow.
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