The cold has finally come, and with it comes worries about the hundreds of Long Island residents who live on the streets.
In the past, advocates and outreach workers would try to encourage those individuals to come inside, get a hot meal, and stay in a shelter. If someone were mentally ill, or needed extra help, he or she could be forced to come off the streets. Now, workers may have further authority. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order effective today that says police and social services officials must move homeless people indoors when the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
On its surface, the order gives Nassau and Suffolk county officials the power to protect residents who are most in need. It could save lives. So local officials must do what they can to enforce the order, and do whatever they can to bring those who are street homeless inside.
But the order is complicated and leaves more questions than answers. Cuomo’s order must be clarified, especially with specifics about who can be forced off the streets and how. Individuals must be treated with respect — their rights upheld, their possessions treated properly. They must be evaluated to determine whether they are mentally ill and can be taken indoors or whether they are not a danger to themselves and can make their own decisions. And the state must be attentive to Long Island’s need for more shelter beds, as most of the region’s shelters are already full, and more personnel, as workers and advocacy organizations are already spread thin.
Cuomo’s order can help to keep homeless New Yorkers safe and warm. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t answer the true homelessness crisis. Hopefully, Cuomo will address the need — for thousands of permanent, supportive housing units, and other affordable housing options — in his State of the State address next week. Then, homeless individuals finally might have a solution that meets their needs.