This past weekend four homeless men sleeping on the streets of Chinatown were killed as they slept. The ages of the men were 45, 50 and 83. A fifth individual was critically injured. Just last year, a homeless man was found frozen to death in Ridgewood after a snowstorm. This isn’t a problem specific to Ridgewood or Chinatown or New York State. On September 12, a homeless man sleeping under cardboard boxes was set on fire in Glendale, California. In San Francisco, where homelessness, much like in New York, is on the rise, residents have taken matters into their own hands by lining up heavy boulders on sidewalks to prevent homeless men and women from camping on the street with their tents. And in Los Angeles, lawmakers are revisiting old laws that ban people from sleeping on sidewalks, further punishing the homeless for a societal failure, not a personal one. How we treat our homeless neighbors is utterly disgusting and it should make anyone with any sense of decency sick.
Last month, President Trump proposed a major crackdown on California’s homeless, alluding to “cleaning up” encampments and clearing out the homeless who according to him, have made cities like San Francisco unrecognizable. Over 2,000 miles away, the unhoused are dealing with the same problems right here at home. Much like our President, a local elected official, Councilmember Robert Holden, has been using the same alarmist narrative when speaking about the homeless. Councilmember Holden has made it his mission to block a shelter in Glendale, Queens from opening. In a town hall hosted by him in September he stated, “We’re going to fight hard and we will not accept City Hall dictating what our neighborhood should have. This is like four new blocks of people that don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood, that have problems. We know that, that some of them are down and out. We know that–we’re a compassionate neighborhood. [..] The homeless in there will never assimilate into the neighborhood. They will never blend in.”
This narrative of the homeless being the “other” is problematic. The alarmist language used by Councilmember Holden only creates further division within our community. The fear that the individuals who will be placed in the Glendale shelter will all be people coming out of Rikers Island and that there will be criminals roaming the streets doesn’t get us closer to a solution, but creates greater unwarranted fear of the homeless. We know that shelters are not the solution. Many of our homeless neighbors decide to sleep in the streets because of the lack of safety in many of them. Still, we know that people have a right to shelter in New York City. Holden’s solution of creating smaller church-based shelters also doesn’t get us closer to a solution. The unhoused aren’t a singular population and this is why shelters are in no way a solution.
Gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and queer individuals are overrepresented in the shelter population. The hurdles of housing discrimination and discrimination on the basis of gender identity become roadblocks for seeking the proper supportive services. The lack of supportive housing for people with mental health disabilities makes it so that people remain in city shelters without access to the proper services they need. People with mobility disabilities often face an uphill battle accessing shelters that can accommodate their mobility devices. With 92,000 homeless in New York it’s urgent that we find a solution NOW because people are dying and we have to put our compassion into action. We all deserve safety, dignity and a roof over our heads.
The Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance is urging Governor Cuomo and all of our elected leaders to act fast to solve this crisis. Sign this petition to fight for a #NYHomesGuarantee, so everyone can sleep with a roof over their head and live free from the fear of homelessness.
More on the #NYHomesGuarantee:
Our opinion piece In City Limits: