Homeless advocates question Cuomo's order to force homeless off streets when frigid air hits

Jan 4, 2016

Governor Cuomo's mandate to take homeless people off the streets and into shelters when frigid temperatures strike has raised some questions among those who work with homeless individuals. 

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Credit WBFO News File Photo

Dale Zuchlewski is Executive Director for the Homeless Alliance of Western New York.  Zuchlewski says he admires Cuomo's compassion but doesn't believe forcing people off the streets is way to go about helping the homeless.

"These shelters are not prisons. You can't force people to stay there," says Zuchlewski. "It can be a very expensive model. If you have police officers picking up people and taking them there, and them just leaving a few minutes later, it's not a wise use of police resources. You can commit somebody to ECMC for a psychiatric evaluation if they are a threat to themselves or others but you really tie up the medical system and that's an expensive model also."

The city of Buffalo's current Code Blue model offers shelter to anyone in need when the temperatures dip below 15 degrees, but does not force any individual to go to a shelter.  The executive order which Cuomo signed appears to set the marker at 32 degrees and calls for police departments and social service agencies to move people into shelters, including those reluctant to go.

Zuchlewski adds, "If you really think about it, if we had a winter like we did last year, you basically would have had a Code Blue from November through March."

Zuchlewski says the governor's model could work with more planning.  He suggests though that focusing on longterm solutions for the homeless might be a better option.  Zuchlewski says he plans to send the governor a few suggestions since Cuomo has opened the door to discussing the issue of homelessness.