The Doe Fund Announces Support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Emergency Shelter Executive Order
Founder Praises “An Unprecedented, Compassionate Action” as a Model for the Nation
JANUARY 3, 2016 (NEW YORK) — New York City-based homeless services organization The Doe Fund announced its support for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order mandating safe, accessible shelter for all homeless individuals in New York State during periods of inclement and dangerous weather.
The order, the first such statewide law in the country aimed at preserving and protecting the lives of homeless individuals during dangerous winter conditions, requires all municipalities to provide emergency shelter and proactive outreach to homeless individuals whenever outdoor temperatures reach freezing. Additionally, all emergency shelters must meet New York State rules and regulations for transitional residential facilities, addressing a key barrier for individuals reluctant to seek shelter in freezing conditions.
The founder and president of The Doe Fund, George T. McDonald, called the move “unprecedented” and “a model for the nation.”
“Through this action, Governor Cuomo has exercised both his authority and compassion to protect the lives of homeless New Yorkers during the most dangerous time of year,” said Mr. McDonald. “Being homeless on the street is never safe. But during the winter months in New York State, the discomfort of living homeless can become life-threatening in a matter of hours. Thanks to the Governor’s leadership, there can be no ambiguity: homeless lives are as precious as any others, and they deserve uniform, statewide protection. For years it’s been an aspiration for advocates like us. With the Governor’s action in place, we can finally say that the law requires no less.”
According to McDonald, the order’s dual emphases on proactive outreach and improving the conditions of shelter facilities will fundamentally improve outcomes for homeless individuals and save lives. “For decades, individuals facing lethal outdoor conditions have chosen to risk their lives on the streets instead of seeking help. We have to ask ourselves why. The governor has asked and answered that question: they fear unsafe, unsanitary and dangerous conditions in shelters.
“This executive order fixes both sides of the long-broken equation for delivering services to people suffering in our streets. Mandating minimum standards for shelter conditions will help dispel the fears and concerns of individuals seeking emergency shelter; while requiring municipalities to reach people at risk will help those unable to act in their best interests because of drug use, hypothermia or mental illness.”
Both issues are of personal importance to Mr. McDonald, who founded The Doe Fund thirty years ago after two homeless individuals he knew were denied or unable to access life-saving services. “Mama Doe was an elderly woman who was forced out of Grand Central Terminal [where she had been living] into a freezing Christmas Eve in 1985. She died of exposure the next day. She had no place to go and no one to advocate for her.
“The same year, a recent law school graduate I befriended named Gary became homeless after the onset of schizophrenia. He went missing during that brutal winter. Thankfully we were able to save his life, but only after securing a warrant and reserving a bed for him in one of the few safe facilities at the time. The governor’s executive order will finally make stories like theirs lessons in history instead of continual, repeating tragedies.”
Besides the immediate impact on the lives and safety of homeless New Yorkers, Mr. McDonald predicts a nationwide turnabout. “New York State has long been a bellwether when it comes to issues of social policy and civic life. With the Governor’s new order in place, we are now a model for the nation. We firmly believe that his action will precipitate change across the US and permanently improve the ways states and cities protect the lives of their citizens— especially the most vulnerable among us.”