Homelessness – and why New Yorkers have the right to expect action

The topic of homelessness has garnered many headlines in recent weeks, including in this newspaper, which has been chronicling the concerns of neighbors of the 850-bed men’s shelter at Bellevue Hospital. Additionally, in a recent letter to the editor, a T&V reader remarked on her observation that homeless people have even been sleeping in and around Stuyvesant Town.

Therefore, we were relieved to hear Mayor Bill de Blasio and the first lady roll out a plan last Thursday to help the mentally ill in this city, including those who are homeless and have histories of violence or aggressive behavior, get easier access to services they need. Though it doesn’t focus on the homeless in particular, the plan is focused on getting different city agencies to start communicating in a meaningful way in order to determine the best course of action (treatment vs. jail, for instance) when dealing with particular individuals.

This initiative really can’t start soon enough.

In Kips Bay, where residents have for years complained of homeless men fighting, using pay phones as toilets, and masturbating in plain sight, tips get swapped by neighbors on Facebook on how to deal with the ongoing problem themselves. One resident recently advised others not to give money to the shelter residents, in the hope that they’ll panhandle elsewhere. It’s worth pointing out, though, that for those who do want to help the homeless, offering money isn’t the only way to do this.

We respect the method of assistance used by a writer of a letter to the editor this week, Stuyvesant Town resident Susan Turchin, which is to actively pass on information to homeless people about the places they can go to receive shelter and other important services.

In related news in late July, we were relieved to be able to report on the Department of Homeless Services’ plan to change the ex-con-ridden 30th Street shelter into a place for employable men seeking job training. Since the wheels of government move slowly though, we urge Mayor de Blasio to make this particular project a priority.

We also want to remind New Yorkers that you are well within your rights to complain if you feel the city is being too poky in its effort to make these promised changes.

Though we agree that the homeless do clearly need compassion, and support, neighborhood residents’ concerns of quality of life and safety issues where the homeless are concerned should not be dismissed as callousness. Having sympathy for the homeless while also not wanting to find said individuals passed out in front of one’s door are not mutually exclusive sentiments.

It isn’t paranoid to be concerned about the potential for some homeless people to start begging aggressively or engaging in other illegal behavior, when there seem to be more of them every day. It isn’t overreacting to think the sight of people sleeping outside in and of itself is disturbing and needs to change.

So far, the words from the city in response to these issues have been very encouraging. Now it’s time to get to work.

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