Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order to help New Yorkers deal with homelessness as temperatures drop. But will it do anything?
It was a cold winter afternoon under the MetroNorth tracks at 125th Street, where a group of homeless individuals congregate, panhandle and always get chased away. Yesterday, it was El Hadj Drame's turn.
A tall man of erratic motions and sometimes confusing conversation, Drame can often be found at 125th, sometimes drinking surreptitiously from plastic bottles, guarding his shopping cart of belongings.
It was the shopping cart that drew the attention of two police officers, who asked Drame to move the cart out of the flow of pedestrian traffic.
Wearily, they went through the routine of trying to help: "Would you like some information or some assistance," they asked. "Would you like to go to the hospital?"
"Sorry about it. I go, I go," he said. He moved off farther down the street, past an outreach team, also keeping an eye on the small group.
The interaction epitomizes the difficulty of enforcing Cuomo's most recent broadside against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the homeless wars — an executive order directing local social service agencies and police departments to move homeless people in need into shelters when the weather drops under 32 degrees.
What happens if they won't go?
The homeless presence on 125th Street has been much maligned, branded an "encampment" and a breeding ground for K2, or so-called synthetic marijuana, a PCP-like substance popular among the city's homeless.
But regulars at the spot keep coming back, for the moneymaking possibilities — opening a cab door for train commuters could result in a tip — and the company.
Shivering in a heavy jacket and vest, with a t-shirt wrapped around his head under a hood, Romeo Ken, 32, said he wasn't dumb enough to stay out in the cold to die, but maintained that some wouldn't want to be forced into shelters, particularly when it would put their safety or belongings at risk.
"He's not gonna go in with a shopping cart," Ken noted, pointing at Drame.