Homelessness in the
Richest Country on Earth

Do your elected officials do this?

Giuliani Steps on The Homeless

By Robert Lederman

...I found a cardboard box more attractive than going to the City's dangerous and degrading homeless shelters.
He's against raising the minimum wage. He wants to kick people out of the City's repulsive homeless shelters and take away their children if they refuse to work full time in exchange for a few feet of space in which to lie down. He cuts funds to drug programs forcing addicts to live in the street. His pandering to real estate interests decimated New York's low income housing and Single Room Occupancy hotels where many homeless once resided. His ongoing war on vendors, an occupation which once supported many of the City's thousands of homeless, made panhandling and sleeping on the street their final resort. Now, he wants the New York Police Department to arrest New Yorkers simply for being homeless. "Adolf Crueliani" strikes again.

Anyone who thinks this is about making the streets safe from crazy people does not understand Giuliani. What's at risk is not our safety (more innocent New Yorkers are killed by the New York Police Department than by deranged homeless people) but the illusion that this Mayor made the streets safe. What is at risk is the sky high commercial rents on socially sterilized all-white Madison Avenue. What is at risk is his false image in the upcoming Senate race.

I've been homeless and slept on New York City streets in the depth of winter. Like many people I found a cardboard box more attractive than going to the City's dangerous and degrading homeless shelters. I never panhandled but lived by selling my artwork for whatever I could get. When the police would confiscate my art I would sell old clothes or books I found in the garbage alongside hundreds of other homeless men and women. In my experience, homeless people are no crazier or violent or involved in drugs than the rest of the City's residents. Some are amazingly resourceful in the struggle for survival, eking out a living from the debris of other people's lives. Some are the most patient, helpful, and tolerant people I have ever met. A few are almost as nasty and deranged as the 107th Mayor of New York.

It's easy to look down on the homeless if you have a nice apartment and a good paying job let alone if you are a big shot with a suburban estate, a stock portfolio and a driveway full of fancy cars. For such fortunate people the homeless seem like another species. But that is an illusion too. Many of those who live on the streets once had a good job, a family, a car, a college degree, and a nice home. For many New Yorkers losing their gob, getting injured, getting divorced or becoming depressed could land them on the street in a frighteningly short time.

It's not surprising that a Mayor who doesn't even want elected Democratic officials to hold a press conference on the steps of "his" City Hall thinks homeless people do not have a right to sit, stand, or lay down on a public street. This is the same Mayor who believes families should need a permit to have a picnic in the newly corporatized Central Park. Instead of using tax dollars to provide inexpensive housing the Mayor will now waste millions falsely arresting homeless people for Disorderly Conduct and further jamming the already packed Criminal Courts.

I have been falsely arrested almost 40 times for Disorderly Conduct and have never been convicted or paid any fine. Based on the Mayor's understanding of this law, handing out a leaflet, making a speech, or just standing on the sidewalk is sufficient grounds for arrest.

Being harassed, falsely arrested, and abused by the police will not be a form of therapy for the City is already stressed-out homeless. I wonder how many tired, desperate, or justifiably enraged homeless people will be shot by the New York Police Department while resisting being arrested for having no place to live or because they acted suspiciously." Police officers and their unions would do well to refuse to enforce this new policy if only to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Race is the essence of this issue. Most of the City's homeless are African Americans and Latinos. The people that have Giuliani's ear find such people "threatening" when they are doing nothing more than walking down the street minding their own business. Now, thousands of law abiding African American homeless men, many of whom are Vietnam veterans, are being further demonized in order to make the Giuliani administration appear decisive. Is this what the Mayor's ludicrous upstate campaign advertisements mean by his "compassion?"

Let's talk about real lunacy. Hillary Clinton has been viciously attacked by the Mayor for not immediately objecting to Arafat's wife's statement in Arabic that the Israeli government sprayed toxic tear gas on Palestinians. During the months of September and October this same Mayor ordered the entire City to be needlessly and repeatedly sprayed with a poison gas, Malathion, which his own literature describes as an organophosphate nerve gas invented by the Nazis. The health and safety of eight million New Yorkers was deliberately damaged by this act of chemical terrorism.

Do you want conditions to be safe? Let's get the most dangerous lunatic in all of New York off the streets and make this city truly safe for civil liberties. Arrest Giuliani!

Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T (Artist Response To Illegal State Tactics) (718) 369-2111;


The [New York] Daily News published the following on November 20,1999:


"Enough, Rudy Says

Vows he'll rid street of sleeping homeless people"


"Mayor Giuliani yesterday vowed to sweep the streets of homeless people sleeping on private property or blocking pedestrians, saying the city hasn't been strict enough ousting people 'who don't belong there.' 'Streets do not exist in civilized cities for the purpose of people sleeping there. bedrooms are for sleeping,' the mayor said on his weekly radio show on WABC-M....' The law is very clear: You can't sleep blocking the sidewalk.[As a former resident of New York City, I have never observed any homeless person blocking pedestrian traffic who is sleeping on the sidewalk, or sleeping on private property either]. You can't be in parks after they've closed,' said Police Commissioner Howard Safir. 'You can't take up residence on somebody else's private property. So, we're going to just have an enhanced effort.'

Word of the crackdown outraged advocates for the homeless. 'I suppose the end game of what he's suggesting .. the final the jails,' said Marc Greenberg of the interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. 'It's incredibly cruel and inhuman.' A crackdown could mean sending the homeless to jail, which worries advocates. 'If they are going to have a whole focus on just the fact people are homeless, they are going to face a slew of legal problems,' warned Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. A permissive attitude that allows doorways and stairwells to be used as flop houses leads 'people further toward their own degradation,' Giuliani said."


The New York Post published this on November 20,1999:


"Assault Spurs Police Crackdown on Homeless"


"The NYPD [New York Police Department] is stepping up its efforts to roust the homeless from city streets in the wake of the midtown brick attack by a deranged mystery man. Cops from every precinct in the city will crack down on homeless hangouts offering services to street people and then ordering them to move on if they refuse. 'The law is very clear,' Police Commissioner Howard Safir said yesterday. 'You can't sleep blocking the sidewalk. You can't be in the parks after they're closed. You cant' take up residence on someone else's private property. So we're gong to have an enhanced effort. What we always do first is we offer people services. We offer them shelters. We offer them social services. Many of these people refuse. If they refuse, we're going to make sure that they move along and that they don't violate the law.' Mayor Giuliani, who was joined by Safir on his weekly WABC radio show, also made it clear City Hall won't tolerate the homeless camping out on the street. 'You do not have the right to sleep on the streets of New York City. It doesn't exist anywhere. The Founding Fathers never put that in the Constitution," he said. The Coalition for the Homeless said the mayor and police commissioner's statements make 'no sense' since Giuliani proposed ejecting the homeless from shelters if they refuse to work....' 'This is the same man who wanted to eradicate the right to shelter. What he and Howard Safir are saying simply doesn't wash [doesn't wash means it is not logical].' The perception that because of this terrible incident that there is great danger all over the city is just not correct,' Safir said, reeling off crime statistics to prove 'violence is down significantly' this year.""


Lastly, the following from The New York Times published on November 20,1999:


"In Wake of Attack, Giuliani Cracks Down on Homeless"


"Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani declared Friday that the homeless had no right to sleep on the streets and his police commissioner added that they could be arrested if they refused shelter. Their remarks came three days after an office worker in Midtown Manhattan was critically injured in a random attack by a man the police say may have been homeless. [New Yorkers later learned that the attacker was not a homeless person.] Streets do not exist in civilized societies for the purpose of people sleeping there' the mayor said Friday during his weekly radio call-in show. 'Bedrooms are for sleeping,' He added that the right to sleep on the streets 'doesn't exist anywhere. The founding fathers never put that in the Constitution.' Giuliani referred several times to Friday morning's front-page headline in The Daily News. The headline, 'Get the Violent Crazies Off Our Streets,' was for an inside editorial with another big headline, 'Hospitalize the Deranged.' The headline harkens back to the early 1990's, when The New York Post implored Mayor David N. Dinkins in a front page headline 'Dave, Do Something' to stop the seemingly daily random violence when the city's murder rate had reached a record. [The murder rate in the United States has significantly decreased due to many variables, not due to anything that Mayor Giuliani has done, though he takes credit for it in New York City.]

In a later telephone interview, Police Commissioner Howard Safir said that if people sleeping on the sidewalks refused help form police and then 'don't obey, we're going to arrest them'. Advocates for the homeless, who are fighting the city's plan to require that the homeless work as a condition of shelter, reacted with disbelief. 'Now the new plan being introduced by Safir is, 'We're not going to take you to Bellevue [Bellevue is a hospital which is known for its psychiatric unit], we're going to take you to Riker's Island [Riker's Island is a jail located in the Queens section of New York City]? said Mary Brosnahan, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. Norman Siegel, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the mayor had no legal basis for saying that the homeless had no right to sleep in the street. 'It's not a crime to sit or sleep on a public street, providing that you're not blocking the entrances or exits to building, and that you're not blocking pedestrian traftic,' Siegel said. He added that the choice 'cannot be living on the streets or locked up in jail.' Safir said the police would probably not be stepping up efforts to roust the homeless from the streets had the brick attack not occurred. Giuliani, who is a likely candidate for the United States Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, has taken credit for the dramatic drop in crime over the last several years. He is broadcasting television commercials upstate [New York] that stress his achievements, including the reduction in crime that he considers a cornerstone of his administration.. The police began rounding up the homeless in a series of Manhattan sweeps in the mid-1990's, [Giuliani came to Mayoral office on January 1,1993] and many either moved out of the tourist areas and went to less patrolled places or faced arrest and court summonses for such public nuisance violations as impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic. Police officials said Friday that the homeless could be arrested on charges of disorderly conduct or trespassing. Advocates for the homeless said Friday that Safir's announcement would be the first time that the city had threatened the homeless with arrest as a broad policy. Police officials said it was simply a 're-emphasizing' of existing policy... Advocates for the homeless said Friday that the city's statements were bizarre in the wake of the Giuliani administration's fifth announcement last month that the homeless would have to work to get shelter one of a list of rules that those who want to keep their beds will have to obey. 'Where's the logic here?' said Ms. Brosnahan. 'We're going to round them up and bring them to a shelter, and if they refuse work, they're going to be thrown back on the streets?' As the cold weather brings a seasonal surge in applicants for shelter, the city's shelter system is already short of regular bed assignments for people seeking shelter for the first time, said Patrick Markee, a policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless who monitors the shelters under a court decree. On an average night last month, there were 7,198 single adults in the city's shelters systems.

The night before the Mayor's announcement of a crackdown, Markee said, 34 men applying for shelter for the first time at the 30th Street Shelter intake center near Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan waited into the night on chairs, and finally were bused to one-night bed assignments in a shelter in East New York, Brooklyn [New York]. Awakened at dawn, they were handed tokens and told to go back to the center to begin the process anew.

Last winter, hundreds of men were stuck for weeks at a time on this overnight circuit because of a shortage of what the city calls 'assessment beds,' used to sort the homeless into more specialized shelter programs, like those for the mentally ill, run by private nonprofit agencies under contract to the city. Ms. Brosnahan and other homeless advocates said Friday that the number of homeless had increased on the street in the last 18 months as shelters had become full and more bureaucratic about who they admitted. She also said that Giuliani had not provided enough money for homeless housing. 'It's not that these people have a right to freeze to death on the streets,' she said. 'It's that they don't have enough housing." She said the mayor 'has now painted himself into this increasingly reactionary corner.' Giuliani counters that the attitudes of some homeless advocates toward people who sleep on the streets have been misguided. 'There were times in which we romanticized this to such an extent that we invited people to do it,' he said Friday."



TRUE DEMOCRACY   - WINTER 2001 - page 55
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