Letter: Critics Wrong About Shelter Law

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, this crisis hit our region following a variety of dishonest and deceptive acts from the City of New York. In Putnam County, false information quickly circulated about this serious issue as well as Putnam’s response to prevent a homelessness crisis from unfolding in our community. Elected officials, political organizations and pundits in the press who did not support Putnam’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, it does not label any one group of people as criminals, 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. 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.

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, we demonstrated restraint and exercised responsible decision making. In the face of every neighboring county being taken off guard by the city’s actions (even Westchester according to early remarks by Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano), after Title 42 expired generating a new wave of unplanned migration into the U.S., after I wrote to Mayor Adams and received no response, after we confirmed Putnam’s temporary rentals were already 80 percent full with limited capacity, and after Putnam learned that New York City’s representatives engaged directly with a motel, without any county or local government’s knowledge, seeking a six-month to five-year contract, Putnam 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.

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 that emergency action was a temporary solution. 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 committee agenda.

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 New York City or anyone else. Despite the rhetoric and angry 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 30 local governments, in New York State Supreme Court in New York City, made his decision in the case against Putnam stating “the petition is dismissed in its entirety as against the County of Putnam.” This decision was rendered on July 26, 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 the U.S. with few options.

The $1 billion 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. 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.

Kevin Byrne, Carmel
Byrne is the Putnam County executive. His citations are listed here.

One thought on “Letter: Critics Wrong About Shelter Law

  1. Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne fails to mention the actions taken by governors in Florida and Texas that have added to the woes of both New York City and the people fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries.

    If not for the actions of Republican governors such as Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, New York City would not be in the position of finding homes for thousands of refugees. If there had been any form of notification in the spirit of working cooperatively, New York City and New York State would have had time to figure out how to properly place refugees in housing and, God forgive, jobs. Instead, the busing of migrant refugees to New York City without notice has been used as a cruel tactic in a petty assault.

    Byrne correctly identifies the problem as decades in the making, so his assertion that President Biden has not taken ownership is a bit disingenuous. Does the county executive really think that the Republican Party would work with the president to solve this crisis?

    Byrne should concentrate on his role as the putative leader of a small county in upstate New York. When a local official starts calling out the president of the United States, he has obviously lost his way.

    Shea is the former Philipstown supervisor.

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