Kudos to the Bloomberg administration for conclusively demonstrating the hypocrisy of “homeless#&148; advocates. New York City has finally won the right to evict violent and disruptive vagrants from its homeless shelters. In so doing, it has exposed the advocates’ Big Lie: that they want the homeless off the streets.
State law has long given the city the power to ban unruly individuals temporarily from shelters if they repeatedly violate behavioral rules. The advocates, however, successfully sued to prevent the city from using that power. Now a court has just reversed the advocates’ reign over shelter management, enabling the city to enforce safety in its massive shelter system. In response, the advocates are emitting their usual whine: The city’s heartless action will result in more people on the streets.
What a joke! For 20 years, the homeless industry has dedicated itself to keeping deranged addicts, alcoholics, and criminals on the streets and out of treatment. Remember Billie Boggs (a.k.a. Joyce Brown), the psychotic colonizer of a steam grate on Second Avenue, who became liberals’ favorite symbol of the right to live on the streets? From her sidewalk campsite, Brown ran out into traffic, threatened passersby, covered herself in feces, and tore up, burned, and urinated on paper money given to her by charitable pedestrians. Her sisters begged the city to hospitalize her for her drug-fueled psychoses, and New York mayor Ed Koch agreed.
But the New York Civil Liberties Union successfully fought Koch’s effort to get her off the streets and into treatment. The left-wing trial judge who ordered Brown back onto the steam grate established a pattern: his moralizing was directly at odds with the consequences of his actions. “It is my hope that the plight [Brown] represents will also offend moral conscience and rouse it to action,” wrote Judge Robert Lippmann self-righteously. But the Koch administration was taking action; it was Lippmann and the advocates who were abandoning a deranged woman to the streets.
This pattern persisted until today. When the Dinkins administration tried to get vagrants into shelters before the Democratic National Convention, the advocates went berserk, accusing the mayor of trying to clean up the city at the expense of homeless people’s alleged right to the streets. Every Giuliani effort to enforce laws against street disorder and protect the mentally ill and the addicted from violence and frostbite and gangrene by getting them into shelter provoked similar outcries.
The advocates’ favorite justification for keeping vagrants on the street in plain view was that the shelters were “dangerous.” But the reason the shelters were (or appeared) dangerous was that the advocates wouldn’t let the city keep them safe. Faced with the shameless hypocrisy of their Big Lie, the advocates resorted to petty little lies. During a debate with me on the television station New York One, Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless claimed that it was the guards who made the shelters dangerous, not the homeless. This statement was preposterous. While doubtless some guards abuse their power, those occasions pale in number to the times when thuggish vagrants threaten other shelter occupants.
It is beyond the advocates’ ken that the purpose of rules is more to prevent bad behavior than to punish it after it occurs. To be sure, some violent shelter residents will wind up getting kicked out. Others, however, will start to improve their conduct simply when faced with the prospect of consequences. And if the advocates are right that it is fear of disorder and violence in the shelters that keeps so many derelicts in the streets, the number of people who now will start using shelters overwhelms the number of people who will be evicted.
Enforcing expectations of reasonable behavior not only is essential to shelter management; it is a vital prerequisite to bringing vagrants back into society. Until street colonists learn to obey even the most minimal rules for decent conduct, they cannot expect to hold a job or an apartment. But then, the advocates don’t really seek to get the homeless working and housed. For the advocates, keeping the homeless on the streets is essential to fund-raising and serves an ideological need as well, as demonstrated by Judge Robert Lippmann: railing against a heartless capitalist society even as you prevent that society from exercising real, effective compassion.