NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Advocates are speaking out against a police union-backed initiative, and other apps which prompt New Yorkers to post pictures of the city’s homeless online.
In August, the Sergeants Benevolent Association launched the “Peek-a-Boo, We See You!” campaign, which asked on-duty NYPD officers to snap photos of quality-of-life offenders to document what union president Ed Mullins called “a city in decline.”
The photos, tagged with where they were taken, are view able on the website PeekabooNYC.org. The website also allows for non-police patrons to upload their own photos to the site.
But homeless-services advocates say the photos humiliate the homeless by portraying them as an unsightly bane in forums where they’re sometimes scorned as “scum” and “human trash.”
Dave Giffen, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, calls the initiatives “unethical and inhumane.”
New York residents are also figuring out ways to track the homeless population.
One member of the Facebook community group ThirdAnd33rd, a group for residents of the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, created “Map the Homeless” mobile app. The app allows users to “pin” locations on a map of the city, and upload pictures.
“It’s a way for people share photos of disturbing things they see” and push collectively for change,” ThirdAnd33rd administrator Lauren Pohl said. “The intent was never to shame anyone.”
Jean Rice, who was homeless for years and is on the board at advocacy group Picture the Homeless, is concerned that they “single out a subpopulation” for scrutiny.
Another mobile app, “We Shelter,” allows users to send small donations — averaging about five cents — to homeless service agencies.
“The goal here,” co-founder Ilya Lyashevsky said, “is to really allow people who are residents of the city to be able to act on the compassionate impulse to help.”
New York has the biggest homeless population of any U.S. city, according to federal statistics. As of Tuesday night, there were over 57,700 homeless people in shelters, a 13 percent increase from the same night two years ago, with possibly thousands of others on the streets.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently came under fire for urging the public not to give money to the homeless. Bratton’s comments came after new photos documenting the problem were released.
“My best advice to the citizens of New York City – if this is so upsetting to you, don’t give,” Bratton told CBS2’s Marcia Kramer earlier this week.
Mayor de Blasio stood behind Bratton, saying the best thing to do to help the homeless is to call 311.
De Blasio recently announced a new $1 billion plan to help combat the homelessness issue, with the goal of getting more people off the streets over the next several years. De Blasio said that more than 50,000 homeless people have moved out of shelters through the last year and a half, due to initiative he implemented when he took office in January 2014.
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