Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

Mayor's WINS Address
Sunday, December 5, 1999

Addressing, not Ignoring, Homelessness
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

Over the last two weeks, there's been a good deal of misrepresentation and consternation about our stepped up efforts to stop homeless people from sleeping on the streets and sidewalks.

To begin with, it's important to have a balanced understanding of this serious issue. Some advocates romanticize homelessness; at the other extreme, some people speak of the homeless as if they're all criminals. The fact is that people who are homeless are not at all alike. Homeless people are as complex and diverse as everyone else, and their problems deserve a complex response. Different depending on the nature of the problem they have, but they're all problems that we can and should address rather than ignore.

Some homeless people simply need help finding a place to live. Some are alcoholics or drug addicts and need appropriate treatment. Some are physically ill and need medical attention. A high percentage of those people who sleep on the streets, according to experts, are suffering from mental illness, in particular schizophrenia. And some percentage are criminals who engage in violent crime, property crime, or some other mixed form of crime. The common thread in each and every one of these cases is that ignoring the specific problem that an individual homeless person is grappling with will only make things worse, both for them and for society at large.

That's why police officers and homeless services personnel are approaching people who sleep on the streets and determining what they need. If they need housing, the City helps provide it. If they need medical care, the City helps to take them to a hospital. And so forth. That is in no way, shape or form an attempt to criminalize homelessness, as some critics have irresponsibly called it. The vast majority of homeless people are not being arrested; they're being offered the precise services that will begin to help them address their problems.

The only reason homeless people are arrested is for the same reasons others would be arrested - committing a crime, like robbery, burglary, assault, trespass, disorderly conduct. Again, homeless people are arrested not for being homeless. Most homeless people are given services and assistance. But those homeless people who commit crimes are, of course, arrested as anyone else would be. To do otherwise would be giving homeless people an immunity that no one else in society deserves. And many of the politicians who discuss this issue and many of the advocates are actually, maybe without knowing it, asking for that kind of immunity.

Let me share with you some statistics on the results of police officers' and homeless services employees' contacts with homeless people since our intensified intervention began. Of the 1,674 people contacted, 380 have been taken to shelters-because it was determined that they needed a place to stay for the night. Sixty-seven have been taken to a hospital to address a physical or mental problem.

Altogether, only 164 arrests have been made out of 1,674 contacts. That means that it's only a small number of homeless people who are committing crimes or who have prior warrants to be arrested for crimes they committed in the past. And again, the people being arrested are being arrested not for being homeless, but for crimes they commit, like robbery, burglary, assault, disorderly conduct, menacing. I wonder what the advocates would prefer-that we ignore their criminality? That would give them a special exemption that no one else in the city enjoys. Homeless people should be treated like everyone else: when they commit crimes, they should be held accountable.

In Cleveland, under the leadership of Mayor White, a very similar initiative is underway to stop people from sleeping on the street . . . to offer appropriate services . . . and to arrest those who engage in criminal conduct. This is happening in cities across the country because people understand that the old philosophy of neglect is destructive all around. A civilized society tries to move people in the direction of self-sufficiency and independence rather than allowing them to deteriorate before our eyes.

We're spending more money than ever before on homeless services, and more money than any city in the nation, but our focus now is on making that money work to create progress in people's lives, not to allow them to deteriorate. That requires us to think more seriously and more maturely about homelessness than we have as a city in the past. It requires us to understand that it's more compassionate and loving to deliver needed services than to look the other way. This is Rudy Giuliani.

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