Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Nighttime temperatures are plunging, making it deadly for the homeless who refuse to go into shelters. Yet blinded by progressive ideology, so-called “advocates” for the homeless — including the Obama administration — defend a bogus right to live on the streets.
Even if it means freezing to death.
Vagrants aren’t the only victims of this misguided ideology. It’s also robbing the rest of us of our neighborhoods’ safety and cleanliness.
Here in New York, a battle is erupting over Mayor de Blasio’s indulgence for street living, no matter its impact. On Sunday, Gov. Cuomo announced that police and social-service agencies must move vagrants into shelters when the mercury falls below 32 degrees.
Common sense, right? Not to de Blasio and his left-wing allies. Staying out in frigid temperatures is a “rational, conscious decision,” says Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union. The homeless “still have rights to make that decision themselves,” says de Blasio.
Not a “right to freeze to death,” Cuomo shot back.
De Blasio argues that under state law, police can move only the mentally incompetent against their will. Cuomo’s lawyers concede that. But staying on the street in icy weather is a sign you’re mentally unstable.
The mayor needs to call off the legal attack dogs. Every year, several homeless New Yorkers die of exposure. To comply with current law, police will probably have to take the unwilling to hospitals for mental evaluation, instead of to shelters.
When former Mayor Ed Koch ordered police to get vagrants off the streets during cold waves in 1987, they picked up Joyce Brown off 65th Street and took her to Bellevue Hospital. Brown was described by The New York Times as a “dirty, disheveled and abusive person who lived in her own excrement . . . and suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.”
The ACLU sued for her release, describing her fetid existence as a “fearless, independent lifestyle.” The same wacky thinking de Blasio and Siegel are trotting out now.
De Blasio’s lawyers actually point to Joyce Brown as a kind of folk hero, claiming her case paved the way for homeless “rights.” But Brown, who was released by doctors before the state’s highest court could rule on her confinement, wound up back on the streets, where she died using drugs.
Nationwide, the idea that vagrancy is a lifestyle deserving legal protection is hampering efforts to rehabilitate the homeless and protect quality of life for the rest of us. Some federal courts reject the claim, but unfortunately others buy in.
In 2006, a federal appeals court backed up Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to get vagrants off the streets, ruling that there’s no “right” to build a cardboard shelter and sleep in public.
And this fall, a federal court in Boise, Idaho allowed police to clear an encampment of vagrants — an “Obamaville” — and move them into a shelter, over the objections of the Obama Justice Department. The DOJ argued people have a “right” to sleep on the street if there are no shelter beds. Boise proved there are beds, many still unused after the clean-up.
Unfortunately, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is squelching Los Angeles’ efforts to halt vagrancy. The court has ruled that homeless have a “right” to sleep in their cars and store their possessions on the sidewalk when shelter space is lacking.
But in New York, the issue isn’t shelter beds. New York City even rents a staggering 1,100 hotels rooms a night to ensure enough are available. Instead, the problem is City Hall’s tolerance of homelessness as a lifestyle — our public safety and quality of life be damned.
Sunday night, a McDonald’s worker got stabbed to death in The Bronx by a homeless man heading to the restaurant’s bathroom. And a Midtown steakhouse is reporting a 24 percent drop in business because of a homeless encampment outside the restaurant.
More victims of de Blasio’s progressive ideology.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.