- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 3, 2016

In the latest political spat between the two top Democrats in New York state’s local politics, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered cities statewide to take homeless people indoors when the temperature drops below freezing.

The executive order, signed Sunday to take effect Tuesday, imposes burdens on local governments and is of contested legality, but Mr. Cuomo waved aside such objections as contrary to religious duties.

“We just finished the holiday season, and the holiday season is about compassion and love and brotherhood and helping one another,” Mr. Cuomo told New York radio station WINS.

“We’re saying what we believe as a people, as a society, is we want to make sure every New Yorker has a place to be sheltered and doesn’t have to be in the cold weather,” he said, citing the risks of hypothermia and potential death when temperatures dip below 32 degrees, as they inevitably do throughout New York state in January and February.

A spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has frequently clashed with Mr. Cuomo and been criticized for his handling of the city’s homeless problem, said the order oversteps Mr. Cuomo’s authority.

“We support the intent of the executive order, but to forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather, as the governor has ordered, will require him to pass state law,” spokeswoman Karen Hinton said in a statement that went on to criticize the order as an unfunded mandate.

“This executive order adds no legal or financial resources to New York City’s programs to assist the homeless and merely requires all New York state localities follow many of the same requirements as New York City to shelter families and individuals in need in freezing temperatures,” she said.

In addition, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has noted that civil libertarians have made it difficult for police to remove people from the sidewalks involuntary, for reasons of the homeless’ constitutional rights and their own fears for their safety in homeless shelters.

In his interview with WINS, Mr. Cuomo dismissed these concerns as “a philosophy out there that says people have a civil right to sleep on the street and freeze to death if they want to.” He said he would defend the order if it were challenged in court.

He said that he was “not going to argue an individual’s right to freeze to death [instead backing] an individual’s human right to housing and services and shelter.”

One New York homeless man told the CBS Radio affiliate that he doesn’t want the state forcing people to go to the sites, which he called dangerous.

“There’s gangs. There’s people being stabbed up, people being robbed, people being abused, mistreated,” said the man, whom WINS did not name.

But the governor dismissed the safety fears.

“That’s just unacceptable. We want people who’d be sheltered in safe, clean, decent, well-maintained places, and they will be. It’s not going to be somebody wants to stay on the street and freeze to death because they’re afraid to go into a shelter. We’re better than that,” he said.

The order requires cities’ homeless shelters to extend their hours if it is necessary, and an aide to Mr. Cuomo told WINS that the order says the state “will assist local social services districts if they are lacking facilities, resources or expertise.”

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