Editor's Note

Editor’s note: Poor air quality just added to the problems homeless people face in New York City

People living on the street were among the most vulnerable to the wildfire smoke that blanketed the city.

Breaking Ground outreach workers speak with Jay, a homeless man, near Columbus Circle on June 9.

Breaking Ground outreach workers speak with Jay, a homeless man, near Columbus Circle on June 9. Ralph R. Ortega

New York City’s homeless people were among the most at risk from the unhealthy air quality that resulted from Canada wildfires last week. City & State City Hall reporter Sahalie Donaldson reported how advocates and city outreach teams fanned out to administer aid and encourage people to come indoors. City Council Member Lincoln Restler also criticized the Department of Homeless Services on Twitter for not issuing a Code Red alert, reserved for extreme heat situations. The alert opens drop-in centers to as many people as possible and forgoes intake and eligibility procedures for overnight shelter stays, among other measures.

Mayor Eric Adams’ spokesperson Fabien Levy tweeted back that Restler was out of line criticizing the department “to sow division for your own political gain.” A homeless man I know as Jay, who wouldn’t give his last name for this editor’s note, wasn’t as critical of the Adams administration. “He’s doing the best thing he can with the situation that’s happening,” he said, referring to the mayor while sitting on an egg crate just off Columbus Circle.

Jay’s most urgent need was getting into supportive housing. However, after the recent influx of asylum-seekers, his wait for housing was going to take anywhere from “weeks to months,” he said. Jay didn’t want to deny helping asylum-seekers but raised a familiar argument I’ve heard from other New Yorkers. “If you can’t take care of the homeless first, how do you learn how to take care of anyone else?” he asked. A good point and powerful reminder that homelessness in New York City remains an unresolved crisis unto itself.