Protesters slam ‘homeless shaming’ campaign by NYPD union

© RT
Protesters came out by the dozen in New York City to demonstrate against what they called a “homeless shaming” campaign undertaken by a New York Police Department union, which they argue is unhelpful and dangerous.

Gathering at City Hall, demonstrators aimed their criticisms at the Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA), an NYPD union representing some 12,000 current and retired officers. Recently, the union triggered a firestorm of condemnation after initiating a campaign that called on its members to photograph the homeless and post the images online.

Speaking with RT, NYC City Councilman Stephen Levin said the campaign is unacceptable.

“We’ve had homeless people in New York City for as long as there’s been a New York City,” he said. “It’s never been acceptable to shame them, to put them down, to publically post their pictures.”

Others at the rally were even less diplomatic, mocking the SBA’s contention that the campaign would help solve the city’s quality-of-life problems.

"This is some bullshit," Jose Lopez of Make The Road New York said to the Gothamist. "If we're talking about solutions for our city, the solution cannot be to take a photo of a homeless New Yorker, who might just be on the street because he got pushed out by his slum landlord who refused to make repairs and decided to raise the rent."

In the original letter on the issue, SBA president Ed Mullins said snapping the photos would “help create accountability” since the images would be forwarded to the “proper agencies.”

“As you travel about the city of New York, please utilize your smartphones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity, and quality-of-life offenses of every type,” Mullins wrote in the letter to the union’s membership.

Uproar over the union’s plan also comes as the New York Post garnered criticism for a story in which it had a journalist go “under cover” as a homeless person. The reporter wore dirty clothes and carried a garbage bag outside of the NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s residence, hoping to trigger a response. After about 45 minutes, he was told to leave and shooed off a bench outside the building.

While that article looked to paint the de Blasio administration as hypocritical – NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton previously said the homeless have “every bit as much right … as you or I” to occupy parks and benches – most protesters on Tuesday were furious with the police, not politicians.

“[The union’s] strategy is just extremely misguided,” said Adriene Holder of the Legal Aid Society to RT. “It’s also dangerous and divisive because what it also is implying is that these folks are dangerous. In fact, that is not the case. These folks need help. They need help with housing, they need help with services.”

In April 2015, a report by the group Homes for Very New Yorker found that the number of homeless sleeping in shelters rose to 60,000, including more than 25,000 children. The group called on the city and state to rebuild permanent and supportive housing facilities eliminated under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for more affordable housing in general and for a higher minimum wage.

With the help of supportive housing, each homeless individual costs the state up to $20,000 a year. Currently, however, each homeless individual costs the state $58,000 a year, Laura Mascuch of the Supportive Housing Network of New York told the Gothamist.

At Monday’s protest, one individual used the pope to highlight the problem, arguing that no religion would condone the union’s campaign.

“I urge you, when he comes to town, ask the pope what he thinks about this,” Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger said to the Observer, referring to Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to America. “I guarantee he’s going to side with Jesus Christ and his love of homeless people—not to mention the fact that he was born homeless. So I would ask whether they’d humiliate Jesus Christ if he had no place to sleep.”

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the majority of the homeless population in NYC suffers from mental health issues and severe health problems. African-Americans (57 percent) and Latinos (31 percent) also make up a disproportionate share of the homeless