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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

‘All Hands On Deck’ To Help NYC Homeless In Cold Snap

In New York’s Central Park, the temperatures fell to 4 degrees this morning, breaking a record set in 1896. Cold-sensitive animals like the zebras and giraffe have been taken indoors at city zoos.

Officials have declared a code blue emergency. And that means twice the number of outreach crews to help the homeless have been sent out, to encourage people living on the street to go to city shelters.

Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the effort.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And let's get now to that record-breaking cold. In New York Central Park this morning, the temperatures fell to four degrees, breaking a record set in 1896. Cold-sensitive zoo animals like zebras and giraffes have been taken indoors. By the way, at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, they brought Anana the polar bear in.

But in New York, a code blue emergency has been declared for the homeless. Patrick Markee is senior policy analyst with New York's Coalition for the Homeless. Patrick, code blue: What does that mean?

PATRICK MARKEE: Well, during code blue procedures, when temperatures fall below 32 degrees, the city implements special services to reach out to homeless New Yorkers who are out on the streets, or sleeping in the subway station or other public spaces. We have extra outreach workers who are out trying to find and bring into shelter some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Our feeding vans were out on the streets last night distributing hot meals and blankets and gloves and hats to homeless folks, as well.

And the city also guarantees shelter placements for homeless families and individuals who are coming into shelter. One of the really positive changes we saw this past week under our new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is the reinstatement of these code blue protections for homeless families and kids who are in the application process for shelter who might not have yet completed their application for emergency shelter.

Our previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had actually turned away some of those families from shelter, even in cold weather. We're very glad that our new mayor has reinstated those code blue protections to guarantee shelter to some vulnerable children and families.

YOUNG: So, let's go over that just for a second because, again, the code blue means that people can go into shelter without having the usual intake process, being screened. But are there any concerns with that? Because there are already some homeless people - we know, from reporting - who are weary of shelters, because they feel that dangerous people might be there. Are you at all worried about people coming in without the intake process?

MARKEE: No, we're not at all. I mean, on a very cold night like this, when it is literally a matter of life and death, we want to get folks off the streets. We already know of at least one reported death of a homeless man in a subway station out in Queens. We don't want to see more deaths like this. The most important thing we can be doing is getting folks off the streets as quickly as possible.

YOUNG: How many people are you talking about? We know there are official and unofficial numbers.

MARKEE: You know, our city government has estimated around 3,000 homeless people on the streets every night of the year. We and others feel that that's actually a low-ball estimate. Whatever the number is, it's far too many people. And we need to be doing everything we can to get them indoors during this cold weather.

YOUNG: And just while we have you, Patrick Markee, talking about the cold, but we know recently, because of the overflow in cities other than New York - but in New York, homeless families are often put up in hotels. And recently, there was a move to move them out of those hotels, even though there might not be any low-cost housing for them to go to. Where are you on that?

MARKEE: Well, it's still a problem. I mean, right now in New York City, we have the highest homeless population that we've had since the Great Depression of the 1930s, just an unprecedented homelessness crisis, in part because of the worsening affordability problems in New York City and the slow economic recovery. What we also saw, as well, is that some homeless families that have been made homeless by Hurricane Sandy a year ago, that some of those folks were being threatened with being put out of those hotel rooms.

The good news there is that a group of amazing charitable organizations has actually stepped in to help some of those families finish the process of getting them moved into the apartments that they so desperately need.

YOUNG: Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City, on this frigid day. Patrick, thank you.

MARKEE: Thank you so much.

YOUNG: So how cold is it? Well, the AP is reporting that in Frankfort, Kentucky, a prisoner who broke out of jail on Sunday turned himself back in - just too cold. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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