Economy

Port Authority Didn’t Want Homeless People To Get ‘Too Comfortable’ With Free Blankets

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

A volunteer speaks with a homeless man in Miami

The volunteers from Saxon/Hart, a charitable giving organization, simply wanted to give some warmth and comfort to New York City’s homeless amid frigid temperatures. But they weren’t allowed to carry out their plans.

When they arrived at the city’s Grand Central Terminal and Port Authority bus and train stations with dozens of blankets last week, officials told them they couldn’t hand them out to the homeless. Even though the organization had been told by police ahead of time that what they wanted to do wasn’t illegal, “We were told we can’t give them out because they don’t want the homeless to get too comfortable there,” a Saxon/Hart spokeswoman told 1010 WINS.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the terminals, released a statement that said, “The Port Authority is committed to assisting the homeless and has worked with Urban Pathways and other leading service providers for nearly 20 years at the Bus Terminal to ensure that homeless and at-risk New Yorkers have the housing, services and support they need. We appreciate Saxon/Hart’s willingness to help and we will meet with them and Urban Pathways to see how Saxon can best compliment Urban Pathway’s efforts and ensure that all New Yorkers are kept warm during this bitter cold season.”

“We weren’t trying to make people more comfortable in the station, we just wanted people to not freeze,” Tolson said. “There have been deaths because of these awful temperatures and that’s what we’re trying to do is just help people that are stuck on the street.”

New York City has been in the grips of extremely cold weather; last week wind chills brought the temperature below zero and this week the so-called Siberian Express will keep them low. The deep freeze has already claimed at least one homeless life in the city.

But it’s not the only place where sleeping outside can be fatal. A homeless man in Kentucky died last week on the steps of a homeless shelter in sub-zero temperatures. Others died from exposure earlier in the winter season, from Detroit to San Francisco. More than 153,000 people go unsheltered on a given night across America, and hypothermia can set in with temperatures as high as 50 degrees, although many cities won’t open emergency shelter until they are much lower.

And rather than focus on getting the homeless inside, some cities have responded to their homeless populations by trying to keep people from helping them, such as passing ordinances that make it illegal to hand out meals. Other would-be good samaritans have been thwarted when trying to buy hotel room stays for the homeless after the hotels kicked them out.

In the end, though, it’s far cheaper for cities to get homeless people into housing than to leave them outside, where they often have run-ins with police and make frequent emergency room visits.