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Gov. Andrew Cuomo orders homeless to shelters in freezing weather

A man who said he is homeless holds

A man who said he is homeless holds a sign on Sixth Avenue and West 41st Street in Manhattan on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order on Sunday mandating that homeless New Yorkers be kept off the streets when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered Sunday that authorities statewide force homeless New Yorkers off the streets when temperatures drop below the freezing point of 32 degrees — using police, if necessary.

But on Long Island, it was unclear whether officials could and would comply, and in New York City, a top aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned the legality of the executive order.

The edict, which gave local authorities two days’ notice before going into effect Tuesday, exemplifies “basic humanity,” the Democratic governor told NY1.

“We don’t let our brothers and sisters in this state stay on the street — even if they’re down on their luck — under freezing temperatures,” he added in a WCBS/880 radio interview. “And we’re going to bring them into shelters that are safe, clean and decent.”

De Blasio spokeswoman Karen Hinton countered that courts have in the past ruled that forcible removal is illegal.

“We also already move individuals facing imminent danger from the streets to hospitals for a mental health evaluation,” she said in a statement. City Hall backs the “intent” of Cuomo’s order, said Hinton, “but to forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather . . . will require him to pass state law.”

Officials in Nassau and Suffolk said they would have to consider their response to the order in meetings on Monday. Greta Guarton, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said she believes not everyone will go willingly to a shelter.

“There’s the question about people’s rights, and every person will have a perspective about that,” she said. “Then there’s the matter of possibly saving people’s lives.”

Cuomo acknowledged to WCBS that he may face legal challenges, and said if it prevents people from “endangering themselves, then so be it.” Cuomo counsel Alphonso David disputed the notion that state law would have to be changed to carry out the order.

De Blasio and Cuomo have previously locked horns over homelessness — among other issues — but the governor insisted Sunday his action is not specifically directed at the city.

More than 63,000 people are in city shelters or on the streets, according to the Coalition for the Homeless and the city Department of Homeless Services. More than 3,800 individuals were in shelters or on the streets in Nassau and Suffolk, according to an annual count taken by the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless in January 2015.

Suffolk Police Deputy Commissioner Timothy Sini said county officials will discuss Cuomo’s order Monday.

“We’re going to have to discuss and deal with it in the most humane and effective way possible,” said Sini. “You don’t want to create a dangerous situation for a homeless person or a police officer.”

The order would be “difficult to enforce,” said James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association.

“It’s difficult enough trying to arrest somebody who doesn’t want to be arrested. It’s just as difficult trying to tell somebody they would have to be moved,” he said.

A Nassau spokesman wouldn’t say Sunday whether the county planned to enforce the order.

In a statement, County Executive Edward Mangano said that on Monday, “I will direct county department heads to review the order for compliance.” He reminded residents that the county’s sheltering hotline, 866-WARM-BED, operates seven days a week.

Cuomo in his order said the state would provide any necessary resources to cities and counties.

With Nicole Fuller

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