NEW YORK – At long last, the first hints of spring have arrived. While most New Yorkers have met the above-freezing temperatures and snowless streets with relief, for Mayor Bill De Blasio the thaw marks the emergence of a perennial municipal challenge: the homeless. Typically the Mayor’s office expects the winter to cull the homeless population by about 35-40%; this year, frigid winds, hail and snow only managed to kill off about 24%. Now, it’s up to the Mayor to pick up the slack.
Each morning at 5:30 AM, De Blasio leaves Gracie Manor wearing a light coat, work gloves, and a stony expression. For the next three and a half hours, he wanders through alleyways and under bridges, choking the life out of any and all homeless in his path. Alongside him, an intern from his office keeps tally and sends the new data to the Department of Homeless Services. Thus far, he has wrung the necks of 4,600 – a figure far shy of the estimated 12,000 needed.
The practice started as a stopgap measure in the 1996 under the Giuliani administration as a means of keeping the Department of Homeless Services running. Back then, the program was far more modest: Mayor Giuliani would simply shoot any homeless people he encountered on the way to work. However, a stubbornly growing homeless population coupled with stricter municipal gun control laws gave us the current version of the program.
For each mayor, the duty has been executed in a slightly different manner. According to his aides, Giuliani would gleefully prance about the five boroughs, cackling as he dispatched one impoverished, hungry person after another. Bloomberg, by contrast, took a more data-driven approach. In a 2011 press conference, he described his methodology: “My administration tags opiate users whenever they come into methadone clinics. When Spring emerges, I can find them and dispatch them easily, as their opiate-induced sedation typically means less of a struggle – plus I take on the city’s drug problem. Two birds, one stone.” His unorthodox techniques, though disputed at the time, were extremely effective, and put serious dents into the expenses of both Homeless Services and the city’s drug treatment programs.
Mayor De Blasio, by contrast, enacts a more sensitive practice, the results of which remain to be determined. Believing in his victim’s essential dignity, he removes his gloves for each killing. When outlining his approach in his State of the City address, he declared “I plan to start off with a light grip, giving them a chance to struggle for their lives and affirm their humanity one last time.” After wringing the life out of his victims’ emaciated frames, he leans in to whisper “I’m so, so sorry” into their unhearing ears before placing a single white lily on their chest. While these practices are endearing to some amongst his liberal base, many critics note that his killings still predominantly target minorities.