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Betraying trust and logistics are some concerns about Cuomo's order on homeless

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
The Mission District in Syracuse.

An executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will require homeless people to be taken to shelters when the temperature is freezing goes into effect today. Homeless organizations and shelters in central New York still have unanswered questions about how the order will work.
Alan Thornton, the CEO of the Rescue Mission in Syracuse wants to know, if someone who is homeless is brought into a shelter against their will, what is stopping them from just leaving?

“We’re not a correctional facility and so it’s not like we’re able to keep them there against their will," Thornton said. "It’s possible that an individual could check into the emergency shelter and then within an hour check out and be back out on the street.”

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said law enforcement would have to physically bring a homeless individual to a shelter against their will after a licensed mental health professional assessed them. While Thornton says the governor’s intentions are good, he also is worried that it could negatively impact the trust that case managers and law enforcement have with the homeless, which is essential to get someone into permanent housing.

"I think it could potentially, negatively impact the trust and the rapport that the case managers, the street outreach team are building with those individuals," Thornton said. "I would say the same is true for law enforcement. They know the individuals that are out on the street and they interact with them regularly and I think they probably don’t want to be in a position to forcibly remove some as well."

Melissa Marrone, the coordinator of the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Syracuse, said in one example a homeless man was brought to a shelter against his will last February.

“That severed the relationship between that outreach worker and the individual," Marrone said. "This is very sensitive, tricky work. It’s important that we also work to build that relationship and doing that sometimes that takes months, sometimes years to bring an individual indoors.”

While eventually he was placed in permanent housing, Marrone said it required regaining that trust. She said she thinks forcing someone into a shelter should only be done as a last resort. With about 400 people staying in shelters and 10 out on the street, she said Onondaga County has the shelter capacity but needs more permanent, affordable housing with support from case managers.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.