Homeless woman died of exposure on skid row sidewalk during El Niño storm
By Gale Holland
January 9, 2016
A 60-year-old homeless woman died of exposure on a skid row sidewalk during Thursday's El Niño storm, authorities said Saturday.
The woman, identified by friends as Barbara Brown, died without a tent, rain-soaked and wrapped in a wet blanket on a piece of plastic, witnesses said.
Los Angeles police Capt. Mike Oreb said the woman had refused an offer of shelter from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority the day before she died.
At an emotional street memorial for Brown on Saturday, Deacon Alexander, who lives on skid row, said he called the 911 emergency line that afternoon and said police should take Brown off the street or "she'll be gone by tomorrow."
The 911 operator told him the police couldn't take her in without her consent, Alexander said.
Oreb could not confirm the conversation but said that police would not have been able to order Brown off the street. "We cannot force her to leave or seek shelter," he said. "We can only encourage to seek shelter."
Brown's death came as the city and county, after months of deliberations, released the region's first comprehensive plan in more than a decade for curbing homelessness.
Officials said a task force had been making preparations to safeguard homeless people during the potentially deadly storms.
As the first El Niño rain arrived this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti said L.A. police officers could temporarily detain homeless people illegally camped near the Los Angeles River who are in danger but refuse to move.
Garcetti's staff later directed questions about the law under which they could act to the LAPD, which cited a section of the California penal code that allows law enforcement officers to restrict access to perilous areas during disasters.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week ordered that homeless people be taken to shelters in freezing weather.
A written statement Saturday evening from Garcetti's office said the city is "exploring what we can do to help those who refuse assistance. The Mayor's priority is keeping all Angelenos safe during this storm season and he is urgently doing everything he can to prevent these tragedies from occurring."
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Cuomo Orders That Homeless Be Taken to Shelter in Freezing Weather
By ANNIE CORREAL
JAN. 3, 2016
As an arctic front barreled toward the New York City region, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order on Sunday requiring local governments across the state to take homeless people off the streets to shelters in freezing temperatures.
The order, which goes into effect early Tuesday, requires local governments to remove homeless people by force, if necessary, once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The governor’s order says that to protect public safety, “the state can take appropriate steps, including involuntary placement.”
“It’s about love. It’s about compassion. It’s about helping one another and basic human decency,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, told NY1.
News of the measure rippled across the state, eliciting a variety of responses from advocates even as it raised questions about how the order would be carried out. In New York City, the mayor’s office said the order appeared to duplicate what the city was already doing to protect homeless people during cold weather and questioned the legality of forcible removal, signaling yet another rift in the tense relationship between Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. “We support the intent of the executive order,” the mayor’s press secretary, Karen Hinton, said in a statement, “but to forcibly remove all homeless individuals in freezing weather, as the governor has ordered, will require him to pass state law.”
Zachary W. Carter, Mr. de Blasio’s corporation counsel, said in an internal city document that there were three ways to remove people from the street: voluntary entrance into shelter; arrest if a crime was being committed; and involuntary transfer for psychiatric evaluation or treatment if they posed a danger to themselves or others.
“Factors that do not support involuntary treatment include homelessness or mental illness alone; idiosyncratic behavior; conclusory assertions that person poses danger; mere fact that person would benefit from treatment,” the document said.
A similar effort by Mayor Edward I. Koch in the mid-1980s met significant legal obstacles.
Norman Siegel, the veteran civil rights lawyer who fought Mr. Koch’s actions at the time, said he and other advocates would be closely monitoring the implementation of Mr. Cuomo’s order. “The fact that it is below 32 degrees does not give the government permission to take someone off the street,” he said, noting that such action — under the state’s Mental Hygiene Law — requires the police to interview and determine mental capacity before taking a person in custody. “The bottom line if they do the training, and they do the individual assessments, I’ve got no problem with that. But if they do a dragnet, then we’ll have serious legal and policy problems.”
The Cuomo administration said the governor’s executive order would force cities to abide by the state’s Mental Hygiene Law and do the assessments. Alphonso B. David, the governor’s chief counsel, said that police agencies “must comply regardless of what the local district’s policy may or may not be or how well it is or is not managed by the locality.”
It initially seemed the governor was pushing for forcible removal, but Mr. David later clarified that while state law allowed authorities to involuntarily detain individuals deemed to be mentally unstable, “obviously, the order does not mandate involuntary commitment for competent individuals,” he said.
Mr. David suggested that the perceived homelessness crisis in New York City — and Mr. Cuomo’s assertions that Mr. de Blasio has been slow to act — was a major impetus for the executive order.
“There are more than 4,000 homeless individuals living on the streets, with the majority in New York City,” Mr. David said. “State law mandates that safe and clean shelters are provided to both families and individuals.”
New York City’s current policy when temperatures drop to freezing, known as Code Blue, is to increase the number of vans checking for homeless people on the streets and to allow them to forgo the usual intake procedure at shelters and other facilities. In compliance with the Mental Hygiene Law, the city also takes people to hospitals for mental health evaluation if they appear to be in imminent danger.
Temperatures are expected to plummet on Monday, dropping to 15 degrees overnight with wind chills around zero, Patrick Maloit, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said. Highs will be around 30 degrees on Tuesday, the day the measure goes into effect.
Mr. Cuomo’s order follows significant actions by Mr. de Blasio to reduce homelessness by announcing an aggressive plan to move people off the street and into shelter.
Though there are discrepancies over the numbers, a few thousand people are estimated to live on the street, significantly less than the nearly 58,000 staying in shelters overseen by the Department of Homeless Services. But visible homelessness has been the most politically damaging issue to Mr. de Blasio as a mix of homeless people and sheltered panhandlers have filled the sidewalks and subways.
On Sunday, the governor’s staff once again seemed to cast Mr. Cuomo’s action as a forceful response to an unanswered challenge. “This order is only a part of the state’s response to the homeless crisis,” Mr. David said, noting that the state would soon “announce our full plan.”
The Doe Fund, a New York City-based homeless services organization, said it supported the governor’s move, noting its founder had created the fund after two homeless people he knew were denied lifesaving services or unable to gain access to them during the winter. “The governor’s executive order will finally make stories like theirs lessons in history instead of continual, repeating tragedies,” a spokesman for the fund said.
Thomas J. Main, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College who studies homelessness, said the order raised administrative challenges. “We’re talking about scooping people up who might be resistant,” he said. “And then what are you going to do? Restrain them at the shelter?”
“This has to be very carefully implemented,” Professor Main added. “It has to be thought through.”
In the end there are some people who will not want to evacuate, no matter how nicely they are asked, or how many buses may be available. As California has experienced in its many wildfires, some residents just don't see the urgency and prove lucky17. In such cases, the concern is less the life of the individual who refuses to leave, and more the life of the responders who may be called on later for a dramatic rescue that could have been avoided. North Carolina and Texas lead the way in this respect by providing that people who refuse an order to evacuate are civilly liable for the costs of a later rescue—while it making it clear that such a rescue may not come at all18. Combined with the infamous "magic marker" tactics of coastal Virginia, where citizens refusing to evacuate are given pens and instructed to write their social security numbers on themselves so that their remains can be identified, most folks will choose to leave when given the opportunity and resources to do so. If those who don't leave are made to bear the full burden of their choice to stay, there is no real advantage to arresting them and forcing them out.
Combined with the infamous "magic marker" tactics of coastal Virginia, where citizens refusing to evacuate are given pens and instructed to write their social security numbers on themselves so that their remains can be identified
NYC brings in 97 people overnight after order to keep homeless off the street when temps drop below freezing
BY Jennifer Fermino, Erin Durkin /
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/
January 6, 2016
The city brought in 97 homeless New Yorkers who were on the streets overnight, officials said.
The homeless people were brought in as part of the city's Code Blue program, which requires outreach workers to comb the streets for panhandlers when temps hit 32 degrees or lower.
Almost all of the people who came out of the cold — 96 of the 97 — voluntarily agreed to move, Mayor de Blasio said. A dozen of them went to hospitals, and others entered homeless shelters
One person was forced to leave the street and sent to the hospital. The city can remove someone against their will if they’re mentally ill and judged to be in imminent danger.
The NYPD, Department of Homeless Services, and emergency medical personnel all participated in the effort between 8 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Another 101 people showed up at emergency rooms to get out of the cold as temperatures dipped into the teens overnight.
Gov. Cuomo on Sunday signed a statewide order that would require all municipalities to bring in homeless when the weather turns very cold. But city officials insisted they’re not changing their policy.
De Blasio said the designation — which also means anyone can enter a shelter without having to prove they’re eligible, and no one can be kicked out — “will continue as long as we’re dealing with this frigid weather.”
Regardless of the weather, the city has also launched a plan called HOME-STAT to canvass the streets for the more
De Blasio acknowledged some people resist going to shelters because they’re dangerous or dirty, noting the city is now doing repairs and also launching smaller, more informal “safe haven” shelters, mostly at houses of worship.
“The perception certainly hangs in the air that some [shelters] are not safe enough or clean enough,” he said. “Given both the reality and the perception, there are still going to be folks on the streets who are resistant, and that’s where safe havens are a crucial, crucial tool.”
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton described Cuomo's executive order aimed at getting the homeless into shelter on cold nights as a "well-intended effort."
"As it relates to New York, what he is encouraging, we are already doing in large measure."
He said the NYPD has expanded the homeless outreach unit from 70 to 100 officers. On Monday night, the unit convinced 56 homeless people to go to shelters and four others to go to hospitals, Bratton said.
He described all the transports as voluntary, not "coerced."
Speaking at an interfaith breakfast earlier Tuesday, de Blasio told the crowd of religious leaders that he needed their help in opening safe haven beds.
“HOME-STAT will work in particular if all of you are a part of it — if we have the right place for each person, if they know they will reach a warm embrace, a supportive environment that you have to offer,” he said.
“We need you to make the safe havens work. We need you to remember that each initial bed you provide is a chance to break that cycle of homelessness for one more person. One more person who wants to get off the streets can find a way forward.”
Should authorities have ignored a homeless woman's refusal to go to a shelter during a storm?
By The Times Editorial Board
January 14, 2016
The death of Barbara Brown, a 60-year-old homeless woman, from exposure to the cold rain on skid row is just the kind of tragedy officials and advocates feared would occur among the 28,000 homeless people who live without shelter on a typical night in Los Angeles County. It's not that no one tried to help Brown. Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority officials said their emergency response teams repeatedly spoke to her and urged her to enter a shelter. Los Angeles Police Department officials said the same about their officers. A friend called 911. But Brown refused all offers of help and died on the sidewalk last week in a wet blanket without a tent.
It's heartbreaking, but was it preventable? Police, the Homeless Services Authority and the city attorney all say that under California law, they have no legal right to drag a person into a shelter against his or her will. “You can't kidnap someone,” said LAPD Lt. John Jenal. Police can't arrest a person simply because they're out in the rain or cold. Homeless Services Authority workers can't take people to a shelter without their consent.
The fact is, homeless people have the right to make decisions for themselves. That includes the right to sleep on the sidewalk at night in Los Angeles if they have nowhere to go and the right not to have their belongings taken without warning and not to be rousted for sleeping in their cars. But society also has an interest in keeping its citizens safe and healthy. The challenge is to find the proper balance when dealing with people who lack the resources, and sometimes the mental wherewithal, to protect themselves. What, if anything, can be done to prevent further deaths on the streets during what's expected to be an unusually harsh and rain-swept winter?
One tactic is to declare certain parts of the region to be disaster areas that pose an imminent danger. L.A. police are already doing that with riverbeds during rainstorms. That gives them the power to order people away from rain-swollen riverbeds even if it means that people have to be forcibly removed. This seems reasonable and prudent.
Outreach workers from the Homeless Services Authority and from nonprofit groups can be out on the streets warning people of the impending storms, as they have been since the rain started and before. Obviously, they should keep doing so.
And if that doesn't work, police do have the power under certain circumstances to bring a person in for psychiatric evaluation; if the person is determined to be mentally ill and a danger to himself or others, he or she may then be confined under Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.
Police say that a simple refusal to come in out of the cold is not sufficient reason to be declared a danger to oneself. But Brown's was not a simple refusal: She was widely known to have mental health problems; social workers apparently knew her and were in touch with her. Is it absolutely clear that there was not enough justification to bring her in for evaluation?
Some advocates for homeless people argue that refusing to come in off a cold, rainy street is almost by definition an indication of mental incapacitation. But whether someone's mental state is so impaired that it requires an involuntary hold in a psychiatric ward of a hospital involves a complicated assessment by a skilled professional. The 2,000 winter shelter beds that the Homeless Services Authority made available last week during the rains ranged from 50% to 80% full. That means thousands of unsheltered homeless people chose not to go to shelters. Some no doubt found refuge in cheap motels or cars, but others must have remained outside. Were they all mentally ill, but luckier than Barbara Brown?
Police officers should use Section 5150 sparingly, and only after consulting with a mental health professional or other medical professional on the scene. But they should do so when they feel it may be necessary to save a life.
The tension between the rights of homeless people and the government's interest in maintaining safety, health and public order is not a new one. As the winter continues, the authorities will be called upon to balance the two in all sorts of disparate situations. We hope that in doing so they will remember that they could be the last line of defense for those who can't defend themselves.