News and Commentary

New York City Wants To Bar Cops From Dealing With Homeless
Homeless person living under scaffolding, 20th Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. (Photo by: Joan Slatkin/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Joan Slatkin/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A New York City Council bill would effectively bar the New York Police Department from speaking with or “conducting any outreach” to the city’s homeless, according to the New York Post, even if a homeless individual poses a threat to residents or municipal workers.

The bill is part of the city’s efforts to change how the NYPD handles crime control and follows directly from efforts to “defund” or “disband” police departments across the country. Under the bill, officers would be barred from interacting with homeless individuals because, as one councilman claimed, “homelessness on the street or on the subway is not a crime.”

“Experiencing homelessness on the street or on the subway is not a crime,” insisted Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin said during an NYC City Council meeting earlier this week. “I hope that this bill will ensure that there is less harm done by limiting the involvement of police in these interactions.”

The bill notes that only city workers specifically tasked with outreach to “unsheltered individuals” would be allowed to handle issues with those sleeping rough on NYC streets and on public transportation.

“Outreach to unsheltered individuals by any government agency shall not include any involvement by the police department and shall be limited to department staff or staff contracted by the department to contact and offer services to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness,” the bill reads, per the Post.

The Post notes that the city is already discouraging law enforcement interaction with the homeless, even though the number of people sleeping on New York City streets has exploded in recent months, according to local media, reportedly because of the coronavirus pandemic. As part of NYC mayor Bill de Blasio’s “defund the police” efforts, he stripped funding from the department’s homeless outreach task force.

Advocates for NYC’s homeless told a local CBS affiliate that a study they conducted revealed that homelessness had reached “astronomical” levels.

“They say for the first time the number of single adults sleeping in city Department of Homeless Services shelters reached more than 20,000. That includes an all-time record of 15,369 single men — and a near-record of 4,841 single women — in October, the latest statistics available,” NYC’s local CBS affiliate said.

The number of homeless, paired with efforts to hamstring law enforcement, has had a dramatic effect on city safety, according to the post, as well as the number of incidents involving homeless individuals. The city’s response also appears to be putting homeless individuals in danger, with far more calls for help to the city’s non-emergency line, 311, going unanswered.

“In June, the [NYPD’s homeless outreach] unit’s last month of operation, the NYPD closed without action a mere 79 complaints [of more than 2,500] to 311 of homeless people in need of help or causing trouble,” the outlet notes. “The very next month, that figure skyrocketed to 437, and has stayed in the triple digits since, with sources blaming City Hall for failing to push the Department of Homeless Services to pick up the slack.”

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