Outreach teams trying to help homeless come in from the cold in New York City

Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Nearly 200 homeless people removed from streets in freezing temperatures
Dave Evans has the details from City Hall.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Tuesday afternoon, city teams of outreach workers hit the streets trying to get the homeless in from the cold.

Monday night 97 voluntarily went to city shelters, and another 101 to emergency rooms, not because of frostbite, but simply to escape the cold.

"Our simple message to all people who are dealing with cold weather or are dealing with a heat emergency as well was that they would be welcome in any of our shelters, no questions asked," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The mayor also announced a new deputy mayor, Dr. Herminia Palacio, who'll oversee the city's new homeless effort.

She knows part of the problem is many of the 3,000 to 4,000 homeless on the street won't go to city shelters because they are dirty and often dangerous.

"Your heart goes out to them no matter their condition. So many of these poor souls are mentally-disturbed or drug addictions. And that's part of the reason some of them don't want to go to the shelters, because then they're not going to be able to shoot up or have the freedom they'd have on the street," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

One example of those who refuse to go is Paul Parsels. He was once addicted to heroin, but has been clean and sober now for 30 days.

"I mean it's tough, now that it's really cold I mean this thing with the newspaper just came out they're giving us a choice you either go to a shelter or you to go to jail. What's that? That's not right!" Parsels said.

That's not entirely true as those who are judged mentally sound and not in imminent danger can stay outside, but that's unacceptable to the governor.

"It's worse than it has been in years. It's unacceptable. We will not tolerate it. It must change we are not leaving our brothers and sisters on the streets to freeze-period," Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

On Monday, New York's governor issued an executive order requiring the homeless to be forcibly removed from the streets in freezing temperatures, an unprecedented government intervention that faced immediate legal questions and backlash.

The order, believed to be the only one of its kind in any city or state, would require communities to reach out to their street homeless populations and take those people to shelters, voluntarily or not, once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

"We have to get people in off the streets," Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Tuesday Cuomo said that the issue in the state is getting worse and primarily the problem in New York City is getting worse.

"There are more homeless people in NYC. I believe the first step in solving it is admitting it. There is an old expression 'never solve a problem that you will deny'. We cannot deny the problem," Cuomo said.

He said there are two components when it comes to helping to develop a successful homeless system; an outreach system that works and a shelter system that people are willing to go to.

"What you have more and more of in New York City is people saying I'm not going to the shelter system. It's dangerous. It's dirty. So the outreach fails because of the shelter system," Cuomo said.

The governor plans to outline a full comprehensive homeless system in his state of the state address next week.