The NYPD would be prohibited from conducting any outreach to New York’s homeless under a new bill before the City Council, handcuffing cops from protecting municipal workers on the frontlines of the crisis — a move opposed by police unions and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Experiencing homelessness on the street or on the subway is not a crime,” insisted Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) during a Monday hearing of the council’s general welfare committee. “I hope that this bill will ensure that there is less harm done by limiting the involvement of police in these interactions.”
Levin, who reps areas including Downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg, is co-sponsoring the bill along with Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat representing Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“Outreach to unsheltered individuals by any government agency shall not include any involvement by the police department and shall be limited to department staff or staff contracted by the department to contact and offer services to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness,” the bill reads.
The bill is a furthering of action taken in July, when the Council and Mayor de Blasio caved to “defund the police” protesters and stripped the department of $1 billion in spending power — with the casualties including the $4.5 million yearly budget for the department’s Homeless Outreach Unit.
In June, the unit’s last month of operation, the NYPD closed without action a mere 79 complaints to 311 of homeless people in need of help or causing trouble, The Post reported earlier this month.
The very next month, that figure skyrocketed to 437, and has stayed in the triple digits since, with sources blaming City Hall for failing to push the Department of Homeless Services to pick up the slack.
But homeless advocacy groups, the de Blasio administration and an NYPD union said Monday that the bill goes too far, and that removing even the option of calling in the NYPD is asking for trouble.
“We are strong supporters of having outreach teams being the primary point of contact — that’s how you establish trust and get people to come inside,” said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United.
“It’s almost like you’re increasing the opportunity for negative engagement if you’re telling the officer they can either arrest the person or make the person move along.
“If you just bar police writ large, you lose the opportunity for them to do the right thing, which they frequently do.”
City Hall had similar reservations about the black-and-white bill.
“This Administration has made tremendous progress in transforming our approach to homeless outreach,” said spokeswoman Avery Cohen. “Still, we have strong concerns about any bill that would outright prohibit an outreach worker from engaging an unsheltered individual with a police officer present even in certain limited circumstances.”
And Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association union, questioned whether Levin had any proposals to fix the city’s homelessness crisis, beyond saying what won’t work.
“Our first big winter storm is about to hit, and we still have nearly 4,000 New Yorkers sleeping on the streets,” noted Lynch. “What is Council Member Levin’s plan to help them, other than telling cops we can’t help?”
Author : Sam Raskin, Nolan Hicks, Aaron Feis