No one in local government asked for this national migrant crisis, but tragically, decades of inaction by our federal government amplified by dishonest and underhanded moves by politicians placed it on our doorstep.
In New York, the misinformation began with City officials and their representatives refusing to coordinate with municipalities before bussing homeless individuals into their jurisdictions. On numerous occasions, New York City outright lied about their intentions and actions, as well as their own legal requirements to care for these human beings. But the truth is the misinformation has come from all angles and political persuasions. Look no further than the instance of a group deceiving the nation about homeless Veterans being displaced by New York City’s action in Orange County- proving to be a despicable hoax.
Here in Putnam County, the playbook has been no different for opponents of our actions to prevent a homelessness crisis from unfolding in our community. Elected officials, political organizations, and pundits in the press, that did not support Putnam County’s emergency action and local legislation, engaged in a campaign of disinformation to gaslight and further their own goals of self-promotion, division, and fear mongering.
Putnam’s new “Homeless Shelter” law is short, simple and barely over one page long. The regulation within it states, “No municipality outside of Putnam County, or agent thereof, may offer or provide temporary housing within Putnam County, thereby creating a homeless shelter as defined above, without first entering into a shared services agreement with Putnam County to provide said services.” Despite what critics have asserted, this law does not ban or prohibit any human being from existing in Putnam County, it does not eliminate or change local zoning, it does not change any law enforcement operations or powers, nor does it infringe on anyone’s Constitutional rights. You’ll note, nowhere in this local law is migrant, immigrant, or asylum seeker, ever mentioned. This is because, while the migrant crisis is part of the origin of this law, it’s not what this law is about. New York City’s actions simply exposed a flaw in existing law that other municipalities could exploit in the future, and we sought to fix it.
Shuttling homeless individuals around without a coordinated plan agreed to by all parties is simply inhumane. Humanitarian organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee have acknowledged this deep concern saying “asylum seekers are being transported by state and local governments… often without informed consent, coordination or planning. Asylum seekers should not be used for political stunts.”
The reality is, what New York City and other municipalities have attempted to do equates to dumping their obligations onto other municipalities with zero planning. In Putnam County, we demonstrated restraint and exercised responsible decision making. In the face of every neighboring county (even Westchester according to early remarks by Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano) being taken off guard by the City’s actions, after Title 42 expired generating a new wave of unplanned migration into the United States, after I wrote to Mayor Adams and received no response, after we confirmed Putnam County’s temporary rentals were already 80% full with limited capacity, and after Putnam County learned that NYC’s representatives engaged directly with a motel, without any County or Local government’s knowledge, seeking a 6 month to 5 year contract, Putnam County responded to ensure a shared services agreement would first be in place before the City, or any other municipality, attempted to abandon their homeless population in our county.
Virtue signaling gestures of funding from the federal and state governments have been largely cosmetic as these very same entities have refused to address the source of this crisis. Earlier this year, New York City was given one billion dollars in the state budget, yet the City continues with its half-baked plans and no meaningful coordination. Recently, it was reported the City threatened non-compliance with its own mandated ‘Right to Shelter” rule signaling it would not provide services or housing for people beyond 60 days. Now, Mayor Adams’ Administration is sending brochures to the southern border encouraging homeless migrants to not come at all.
In the face of this emergency, we had an obligation to act. From the beginning, I made it clear to legislators, town supervisors, and village mayors, after providing them a copy of the emergency declaration and executive orders on May 22nd, that emergency action was a temporary solution. Governing through Emergency Orders for prolonged periods of time, as Governor Cuomo once did, is not good government. This is why I went to the Legislature with a proposed solution to this very serious problem. They agreed to begin the legislative process and placed a draft homeless shelter law on the Rules Committee agenda.
I engaged with local stakeholders about the draft law and accepted valuable feedback from people including one constituent who expressed concern that the initial draft could possibly be misconstrued to encompass existing organizations that serve our homeless population. On my recommendation, the draft was amended by the Legislature, and the constituent withdrew his objection. This new draft was then reviewed, debated, and unanimously reported out of the Rules Committee by a vote of 3 – 0 on June 21st.
On July 5th, the Putnam County Legislature, by a vote of 7 –1 approved the new homeless shelter law. I presented at and sat through the entire Rules Committee meeting listening to all comments, and while I could not attend the full legislative meeting in person, I watched and listened to every comment made online. Following the Legislature’s vote, as per our County Charter, the County posted online and in print details for a public hearing held by my executive office. I granted the maximum number of days to receive feedback and engaged directly with those who attended. I made myself personally available to debunk the numerous lies that had been spread about what was a simple and short piece of legislation.
Throughout this process, it became abundantly clear that many critics of our actions did not take the necessary time (mere minutes) to read the very publicly available and relevant documents pertaining to this pressing issue. We always knew that our actions were justified. I refused to let Putnam County be bullied by the City or anyone else. Despite the rhetoric and angry disinformed commentary, we remained confident in going to court to defend our preliminary measures.
And indeed, this week, the Honorable Judge Lyle E. Frank, who has been presiding over New York City’s lawsuit against thirty local governments, in New York State Supreme Court in New York City, made his decision in the case against Putnam County stating “the petition is dismissed in its entirety as against the County of Putnam.” This decision was rendered on July 26th, the same day as our public hearing and the same day our emergency actions were rescinded, after which I proudly signed our homeless shelter legislation into law.
Our nation is dealing with a humanitarian crisis at our southern border of incredible proportions. Our federal government has failed us for far too long and we need a real solution. The President’s refusal to take ownership of this crisis and take corrective actions to secure our nation’s southern border and fix the asylum-seeking process has left municipalities across America with few options. The one billion dollars from the state and hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government provided to New York City doesn’t even scratch the surface of the outstanding need that still exists. Cities all over the country have become overwhelmed. While Putnam County has acted responsibly, the fact remains that this is a national crisis in need of a national solution. The federal government must wake up and finally rise to the occasion.