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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

A Victory Over 'Homeless' Hooey

Cities, Cities New York City

CONGRATULATIONS to the Bloomberg administration for conclusively demonstrating the hypocrisy of “homeless” advocates.

New York City has finally won the right to evict violent and disruptive vagrants from its “homeless” shelters. In so doing, it has definitively exposed the advocates’ big lie: that they want the homeless off the streets.

State law has long given the city the power to temporarily ban unruly individuals from shelters if they repeatedly violate behavioral rules. The advocates, however, successfully sued to prevent the city from employing that power.

A court last week reversed the advocates’ destructive reign over shelter management and allowed the city to enforce safety in its massive shelter system. In response, the advocates are emitting their usual whine: The city’s heartless action will result in more people on the streets.

What a joke.

For 20 years, the homeless industry has been dedicated to keeping deranged addicts, alcoholics and criminals on the streets and out of treatment.

Remember Billie Boggs (a. k. a. Joyce Brown), the psychotic colonizer of a steam grate on Second Avenue who became liberals’ favorite symbol of the right to live on the streets? From her sidewalk campsite, Brown ran into traffic, threatened passersby, covered herself in feces and tore up, burned and urinated on paper money given to her by pedestrians. Her sisters begged that she be hospitalized for her drug-exacerbated psychoses, and New York Mayor Ed Koch agreed.

But the New York Civil Liberties Union successfully fought Koch’s effort to get her off the streets and into treatment. The left-wing trial judge who ordered Brown back onto the steam grate set a decades-long pattern: His unctuous moralizing was directly at odds with his actions. “It is my hope that the plight [Brown] represents will also offend moral conscience and rouse it to action,” wrote Judge Robert Lippmann self-righteously. But the Koch administration was taking action; it was Lippmann and the advocates who were abandoning a deranged woman to the streets.

This pattern has never been broken. When the Dinkins government tried to get vagrants into shelters before the Democratic National Convention, the advocates went berserk, accusing the mayor of trying to clean up the city at the expense of vagrants’ alleged right to the streets.

Every Giuliani effort to enforce laws against street disorder provoked a similar outcry: How dare you try to protect the mentally ill and the addicted from violence and frostbite and gangrene by taking them into shelter, the advocates screamed, they belong on the streets.

The advocates’ favorite justification for keeping vagrants in view was that the “shelters were dangerous.” But in a perfect catch-22, the reason the shelters were (or appeared) dangerous was that the advocates wouldn’t let the city keep them safe by suspending the trouble-makers.

Faced with the shameless hypocrisy of their big lie, the advocates resorted to petty little lies. During a debate I had with her on the television station NY1, Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless claimed that it was the guards who made the shelters dangerous, not the inmates. This statement was preposterous. While there are undoubtedly guards who abuse their power, those occasions are de minimis compared to the times when thuggish vagrants threaten others.

It is beyond the ken of the advocates that the purpose of rules is prophylactic - to shape behavior even without enforcement.

Some violent shelter residents will certainly be evicted. Others, however, will start to reform their conduct when faced with the mere prospect of discipline. And if the advocates are right that it is fear of the shelters that keeps so many derelicts on the streets, the number of people who now will start using shelters will overwhelm the number of people who will be kicked out.

Enforcing expectations of reasonable behavior is not just essential to shelter management, it is a vital prerequisite to bringing vagrants back into society. Until street colonists learn to obey the most minimal rules for decent conduct, they cannot expect to hold a job or an apartment. But that is not what the advocates seek.

Keeping the “homeless” on the streets is essential to fundraising. But it also serves an ideological need, as demonstrated by Judge Lippmann: railing against a heartless capitalist society even as you prevent that society from exercising its compassion.