How to treat homeless New Yorkers

Josh Dean

As the governor and mayor increase efforts to use police to address problems associated with unsheltered homelessness, I’d like to make an appeal to those who may not see eye-to-eye with me and other homeless New Yorkers and homeless advocates. Regardless of intentions, none of us want street homelessness and subway homelessness to be a reality in New York City. And whether you know it or not, policing actually exacerbates the very situation people want it to solve.

When advocates condemn the policing of homeless New Yorkers, we’re not just arguing that it’s cruel. We’re also trying to explain that policing displaces people, and displacement makes it harder for homeless outreach teams to stay connected to those living unsheltered as workers endeavor to secure them housing.

The most recent HOPE Count data highlights the displacement trend: After efforts to police people off the subways, subway homelessness decreased by 22%. But without the offer of housing, people just moved to the streets, and street homelessness increased by 55%. The same people who fought to get people off the subways are now upset that they are on the street. This cycle will repeat, and homeless outreach will become more challenging, until we let people stay put while we work toward permanent housing.