CITY HALL — City officials say they cannot forcibly remove homeless people from the streets and put them in homeless shelters during freezing temperatures or inclement weather despite an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to do so.
Cuomo issued the surprise statewide order Sunday that requires police and social service agencies to identify homeless people who are "unwilling or unable to find the shelter necessary for safety and health in inclement winter weather, and move such individuals to the appropriate sheltered facilities."
"Our state, which has a beautiful tradition of social progress and community, should not leave anyone outside in freezing temperatures," Cuomo said on NY1. "That’s called basic humanity."
But city officials said they already make tremendous efforts within the law to move homeless people off the streets when the weather dips to below freezing and that they are unable to force people off the streets unless they are mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves, are incapacitated or are at "imminent risk of harm."
"A mentally stable person dressed properly and showing no signs of risk cannot be forcibly removed," said Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. "We will, however, encourage that person strongly to move to a shelter."
During freezing temperatures, all homeless families and individuals are given immediate access to shelter under the city's Code Blue policy, and no one is turned away. There is already a court-mandated right to shelter in the city and required daytime shelter access.
"We support the executive order, but to forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather, as the governor initially ordered, will require him to pass state law," Hinton added.
Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks said Cuomo's order won't change anything about the way the city deals with street homeless during inclement weather.
Banks, during a City Hall press conference Monday, said he believes the governor's counsel clarified that the city does "not have an authority to take off the streets people who are competent."
The order is the latest in the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Cuomo. The mayor has come under increasing scrutiny for his management of the city's homeless issue.
Over the last few weeks, de Blasio has announced a comprehensive review of how the city delivers homeless services and a plan to provide a path to shelter for all 4,000 street homeless.
Two of the city's top officials in charge of homelessness have resigned in the last four months. The mayor has admitted that he was slow to react to the growing homelessness issue and that he has not done a good job of explaining his solutions to the public.
The governor's staff has said de Blasio cannot manage the homeless issue and Cuomo is expected to unveil new initiatives to address homelessness in his Jan. 13 State of the State address.
"I think it is a fact that homelessness is on the increase in New York City. I think everybody recognizes that and I think everybody recognizes that that is a significant problem," Cuomo said on Sunday.
On Monday, Cuomo continued to criticize de Blasio. During an event calling for a $15 statewide minimum wage at the headquarters of 1199 SEIU, the governor began talking about homelessness.
"It's not right to leave brothers and sisters on the street corner. It's not right to leave children on the street corner. It's not right to have a shelter system that is so dirty and unsafe that people have to stay on the street corner," Cuomo said.
In a sign of the poor relationship between de Blasio and Cuomo, Banks and Hinton said that City Hall did not learn about the governor's executive order until 10 p.m. Saturday night.
"I learned late Saturday night that there would be an order and I saw a copy of it during the course of the day on Sunday," Banks said.
De Blasio, speaking at an unrelated press conference, said the city already works to move homeless people off the street during dangerous weather and that he was working to fix a shelter system that had already been broken for decades when he took office.
"We appreciate the intent, for sure, but it doesn’t...change what we do and what we have done for many years," de Blasio said of Cuomo's order.
"The shelters absolutely have to be improved, and that’s part of what we’ve invested in," the mayor added in citing his initiatives to add 15,000 supportive housing units over 15 years and 500 safe haven beds at faith-based organizations to help transition the homeless into permanent housing.
Cuomo's order was criticized as doing "nothing to provide for the long-term mental and physical health needs of our neighbors without homes," by Coalition for the Homeless President and CEO Mary Brosnahan.
“Despite the fact that his administration has started to backtrack on this claim, we have major concerns that the Governor's order would forcibly move individuals against their will," Brosnahan said in a statement. "Put simply, being homeless is not a crime."