New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is ordering local governments to move people who are homeless to shelter during cold weather. The executive order reinforces existing law that requires authorities to take people in for psychiatric evaluation, or hospitalization. Despite the announcement, local experts say it won’t have much effect in the Southern Tier.
Binghamton YWCA director Carole Coppens says the region already provides room for everyone who seeks it in the winter. This “no freeze” policy from the Coalition for the Homeless of the Southern Tier runs on private donations. It funds extra beds at shelters between November and April.
“We’ve always been able to find a place for anyone who needs shelter,” Coppens says. She adds that providers meet the need year-round. YWCA outreach workers deliver basic supplies to the homeless and spread the word about shelters. But Coppens says some people don’t go to shelters for a variety of reasons; checking into one is voluntary.
“Some people distrust the government – for many reasons, who knows,” Coppens says, “And so they feel that any type of system that is out there to help is a handout they don’t want. They fear that will end their independent existence if they come into a shelter.”
According to a report from the New York Times, Cuomo did not intend for the order to force people who are mentally competent to go into shelters against their will. Broome County Department of Social Services Commissioner Art Johnson also said that, on a conference call, the governor’s office indicated the order was meant mostly for New York City.
It does highlight what seems like an annual bout of concern over homelessness, though. Each winter temperatures drop, and public officials, the media and philanthropists remember people are living on the streets.
Coppens says the problem should get attention year-round. “[There are] 365 days out of the year we have homeless people,” she says. The YWCA has an emergency shelter and long-term housing, and Coppens says demand isn’t tied to the weather.
“It can be 90 degrees out in July and we’ll have 15 people knocking at the door for shelter. It can be 10 degrees in February and there’s 3 empty beds,” she says.
Coppens wants more attention on policy solutions that could help end homelessness for all seasons.