Mayor Eric Adams has found himself stuck between a Texas rock and a New York hard place as thousands of illegal immigrants have been bused to the Big Apple by Lone Star State Governor Gregg Abbott in recent months. Now, a decades-old New York City policy called “right to shelter” has Adams’s hands tied as he tries to find beds for the city’s new arrivals. The result is a crisis for the homeless shelter system, mostly of the city’s own making.
This week, as Gotham began turning away dozens of homeless New Yorkers from its facilities, the Adams administration suggested it was time to revisit the “right to shelter” policy, which guarantees a bed to anyone in New York City who wants one. It was, after all, designed to deal with a homegrown homeless problem, not a wave of huddled masses from the Texas border, yearning to breathe free. It is also a policy unique to Gotham: no other place in the country makes such promises.
Swift progressive backlash ensued, and Adams walked back the patently reasonable and centrist plan faster than you can say “AOC.” So now the problem is getting worse and worse. It’s important to understand that long before the buses started arriving, New York shelters were already buckling. Just this summer, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a move to lease thousands of hotel rooms throughout the city to address the problem, albeit in a way that feels like a temporary band-aid, not a real lasting solution.
New York City has about 60,000 beds to offer the homeless, yet over the past two months the number of occupied beds has risen from 51,000 to 56,000, so perilously close to capacity that some shelters are already full up. And given the fact that the average stay for a family in a shelter is 11 months, those beds are not turning over quickly. In fact, they will soon run out.
It is clear that while the 2,200 illegal immigrants sent to Manhattan courtesy of Governor Abbott are exacerbating the strain on the homeless system, they did not create the problem, and it is disingenuous for Mayor Adams to suggest they did. But now New York has two problems, each of which is making the other worse: the right to shelter policy and the policy of being a sanctuary city. Once every illegal immigrant entering the country learns there’s a free bed in the five boroughs, Abbott won’t need any buses. The migration will grow naturally.
The reality is that both of these policies are farcical and unrealistic. While it should obviously be the city’s goal to shelter as many of the homeless as possible, this mandate is wreaking havoc on the system, and in the end the costs will be vastly higher than simply building more effective shelters. New York City cannot plan for the future of homeless policy because it is drinking from the firehose of incompetence. As to sanctuary city status, what is the point if you can’t actually accommodate illegal aliens? It’s like throwing a dinner party when you have no food.
There is one more lesson in all this, a lesson that lies at the heart of the gambit by Abbott and other border state governors. If 2,000 migrants, which is only 10 percent of the capacity of Madison Square Garden, can shut down the social infrastructure of New York, a city of nine million people, what must millions of migrants be doing to small border towns with populations as small as 30,000?
Mayor Adams ran as a sensible reformer who promised to fight crime and vagrancy and represent all of New York, not just its most leftist citizens. He needs to end both the sanctuary city and the right to shelter policies now, but he needs to do something else, too. Adams should take up the various offers he has received to visit the southern border. He should be honest that this is a national crisis and urge President Biden to get off of the sidelines and start securing the border.
New York City knows what it’s like to face a unique challenge that requires help from the rest of the country: we wear a foreign terrorism target and the whole nation has had our back. It’s time for us to support the border states that bear the brunt of Biden’s awful and destructive policies. It is the only solution to the problem.