Following NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ actions to remove all homeless people’s homes from the streets and subways the past few months, a new “Homeless Bill of Rights” legislation was introduced in the city council by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams April 15.
Toward the end of this past March, sanitation workers in partnership with the police cleared 239 encampments within almost two weeks, according to the New York Times. The reason behind this action stems from Adam’s attempt to help recover the city from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not many agreed to go to homeless shelters, and according to the NYT, “more than two-thirds of the people in the subway who agreed to go to shelters had already left them by the end of the month.”
Among an increase in people sleeping on the sidewalks and in subway cars, as many have no viable housing options besides a homeless shelter, this legislation would finally give an outline for the city in approaching removing homeless encampments, by establishing a moral and legal obligation for how homeless people are treated during such a removal. With the pandemic still going on, this is a major step in recognizing the adverse effects of job loss in the city over the past few years, as many may not be able to afford the high cost of housing anymore.
The bill would be imposed to have public authority and officials, police and shelters to advise the homeless of their rights in shelters, codify their rights to a shelter, educational options for children, the right for housing and financial assistance and more. This bill is extremely important, as many may not have access to this knowledge due to lack of help and possibly, lack of access to education.
According to BK Reader, a local Brooklyn news outlet, Council member Lincoln Restler said, “the legislation was a necessary step to ensuring the City treats all people with dignity and respect.”
Many times when these encampments are removed, the residents’ belongings are discarded and thrown away, often showing a lack of respect for the individual and their situation. That’s all the possessions a person may have, and morally, it’s their property and everyone deserves human decency and respect no matter their economic, social or political status.
This Bill of Rights helps protect the civil rights of unhoused people, especially those of minorities where the numbers are increasing year by year. The non-profit Coalition for Homeless reported that 57% are Black, 32% are Hispanic and Latino, and 7% are white. In a system that is built to fail marginalized groups in multiple aspects, these statistics are disheartening, as they continue to spike under a government that is doing minimal to help minority individuals out of poverty.
There are shelter options available to the homeless, often with a max capacity of one hundred people compared to the over 45,000 that experience homelessness in NYC. According to the NYT, “Mr. Adams emphasized that the city was also in the process of opening 500 beds in specialized shelters that have fewer restrictions, more on-site services and in some cases more privacy than the traditional dormlike shelters that many people who live on the street and shelter in the subway reject.”
On March 28, Adam’s opened another shelter in the Bronx that offers 80 different beds, a health clinic and a substance-abuse treatment program. As a small step, this still isn’t helping the problem of the thousands of people that have nowhere to go. According to the Washington Informer, in January, the Coalition for Homeless reported, “approximately 48,413 city residents were homeless, including 15,057 children who sleep each night in the central municipal shelter system. In addition, a near-record of 18,749 single adults slept in shelters each night.”
The proposed legislation is currently co-sponsored by Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Tiffany Cabán, Althea V. Stevens and Shahana K. Hanif, and will hopefully be pushed in the council for a hearing, so that the mayor may sign off on it. Which, he really should, even though there is no specified timeline as to when he will.
Adam’s and government officials in NYC have a long way to go before the notion is true that homelessness and the system that causes it is being truly reformed.
“Private rooms and permanent housing,” Jacquelyn Simone, the policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, said. “That’s what people want. You don’t have to do heavy-handed policing to convince someone to come in off the streets if you’re actually offering them an option that is safer and better than the streets.”