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Try mittens, not iron fist

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to solve a problem – getting the homeless off the streets in freezing weather – with an iron fist instead of using the warm mittens that are needed.

New York’s governor recently issued an executive order that would require communities to reach out to their street homeless populations and take those people to shelters, voluntarily or not, once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

That is a departure from current state law, which allows a police officer or outreach worker to take people from the street only if they appear to be in imminent danger or display signs of mental illness.

The order has faced resistance, including from government officials. Advocates for the homeless also are worried about the negative effects forcible removals from the streets would have.

While Cuomo’s heart may be in the right place on this issue, his head is somewhere else.

It’s important to keep a key point in mind: Cuomo was moved to act amid a growing homelessness crisis in New York City that has been remarked on in the media.

In that respect, Cuomo’s recent action is similar to the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, a piece of legislation many in Fulton and Montgomery counties are not happy about. Both were quick, poorly thought-out solutions to a topic that had been getting a lot of attention.

In this case, the situation calls for making sure shelters are safe, with enough beds and space so the homeless do not have reason to avoid the shelter or go back into the cold, and even permanent housing for those who will need it. That work will require the state to take time and, most likely, more money – not great campaign material compared to saying you solved the problem with one order.

Cuomo’s alternative is a patronizing way of asserting the homeless are not intelligent enough to understand what is in their own best interest.

In addition, forcing people to get out of the cold is a violation of their rights.

Every winter, there are plenty of people with homes who go outside and suffer frostbite. Should the police start telling everyone to stay indoors until spring?