Shelter Shorts

New York City Sweeps Up Homeless

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has struck again, this time against the city’s homeless. Homeless advocates were already concerned about Giuliani’s recently proposed work for shelter plan, which threatens to throw the homeless out of shelters if they refuse to or cannot work, and possibly even place homeless children in foster care if their parents fail to comply. Then in late November, in reaction to the tragic attack on a young woman by an alleged perpetrator who some said was homeless, Giuliani decided to punish all the city’s homeless by calling on police to sweep them off the streets, even though the city lacks enough shelters, let alone transitional living facilities.

“New York’s current mayor, as cold a politician as you’ll ever see, has chosen this moment in the city’s history, this moment of great prosperity and good cheer, to sic the police on the homeless,” wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert (11/29/99).

But it seems that the public, who elected and re-elected Giuliani partly in support of his efforts to “clean up” the city and take a tough stance on crime, is not with the mayor on this one. A poll by New York 1 News last week, Herbert reports, found that 77 percent of respondents opposed the arrest of homeless people who refuse shelter. Several members of the clergy have also announced they do not want the police to disturb homeless people who seek refuge outside their churches. The Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, which runs the city’s largest soup kitchen, was especially vehement in its response to the mayor’s actions.

Homeless advocates, of course, have reacted strongly against the mayor’s crackdown. In early December advocates set up a tent city – which led to a number of arrests – to protest the mayor’s current homelessness policies. “There is no logic here,” said Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless in NYC. “It runs counter to everything we’ve learned over the past 20 years about how to help the homeless. The solution is to have legitimate outreach, not outreach with a sidearm.”

Mayor Giuliani himself has long said he agreed that the way to help the homeless who are mentally ill is to get them into community-based mental health facilities – residences in which troubled individuals can receive the services and medication they need.

But, Herbert notes, “With his police force at the ready, the mayor now says, ‘We’re going to spend a lot of time removing homeless people from the streets.'” And he speaks contemptuously of those who truly want to help the homeless.

Contact: Coalition for the Homeless, 212-964-5900.

Pro-tenant Candidate Wins Seattle Council Seat

Despite the landlord lobby’s heavy contributions to her opponent in the race for Seattle City Council, rent control supporter Judy Nicastro [see Shelterforce #105] recently won a narrow victory over incumbent member Cheryl Chow.

“As the renters’ rights advocate became the target of landlords, homeless haters, and The Seattle Times, she became the adopted daughter of the city’s political ‘outs,'” observed the Seattle Weekly recently, referring to Nicastro’s more “nontraditional” campaigning methods, including ‘the pub crawl,’ to appeal to the city’s young renters.

Nicastro says one of her first steps will be to hold a renters’ summit to collect testimony on the common issues facing lower-income and middle-class tenants in the city, with its rapidly escalating housing prices. She says rent control was a real struggle, but in the end it became the final issue that won her the race. Nicastro has also spoken against the city’s harsh measures to drive the homeless from public areas.

While Nicastro says she did not receive contributions from the organized landlord group, she did receive some support from “rational, small, mom and pop” landlords. “They’re the ones often keeping rents below market,” she notes, adding that she’ll also look for ways to help such landlords be able to afford to maintain their properties and keep rents relatively low, such as making them eligible for tax exemptions, which large landlords get.

Of the city’s landlord lobby, from which she says she’s received a call now that she’s been elected, she says, “There is no common ground. They’re unrelenting.”

Yet Nicastro’s pro-tenants proposals are considered mild by some. Nicastro points out that the landlord lobby, which has in the past sued the city to remove whatever tenant protections existed, even interprets the right to a lease as rent control.

For more information, call Nicastro’s campaign office, 206 925-9220.

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