Written by Claire Haaga Altman, Director of Affordable & Supportive Housing Development Services
Mayor de Blasio began his unofficial “state of the city” speech at the Association of Better New York (ABNY) breakfast on December 19 by highlighting the City’s success with improving the economy, creating jobs, reducing crime, making the streets safer, creating and preserving affordable housing, successfully negotiating labor contracts over the past two years, and ensuring that 65,000 children enrolled in free, full-day high-quality pre-K. The Mayor then turned his focus to quality of life issues for all New Yorkers, especially homeless people on the street.
The Mayor spelled out an assessment of why New York City has 58,000 men, women and children sleeping in shelters every night and a street homeless population of 3000-4000. He offered a thoughtful assessment of the multiple and varied reasons that people become homeless: heads of households lose their jobs then must choose between feeding their children and paying the rent; a mother finally decides to leave her abusive husband and becomes homeless in order to escape further abuse; veterans with -traumatic stress syndrome find it difficult to get and keep a job. Each homeless person’s story is different.
Then, Mayor de Blasio set forth the City’s initiative to reach out to street homeless persons through a new program being launched immediately – HOME-STAT. The program involves a coordinated effort among the NY Police Department, the Department of Homeless Services and other city agencies to work to engage these individuals and to offer them safe, secure, temporary housing in newly created Safe Havens. The Administration commended the faith communities for stepping up to open their facilities for this use. For details on HOME-STAT, read the Mayor’s press release: Mayor de Blasio Announces Home-Stat at ABNY Breakfast
To ensure that a homeless person has a home after spending time in a Safe Haven, the Mayor announced in November 2015 his commitment to build 15,000 supportive housing apartments for those individuals with special needs. To learn, more read NYT’s De Blasio Unveils Plan to Create 15,000 Units of Housing.
Addressing the myriad needs of the larger, but not so visible, homeless population living in shelters, the Mayor announced on December 14, 2015 a plan to reorganize the NYC Department of Homeless Services to “better prevent, reduce, and manage homelessness”, tapping Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and Human Resources Commissioner Steven Banks to oversee this reorganization.
In this announcement, the Mayor recapped the initiatives that have been launched over the last two years to combat homelessness, including: new rental assistance programs which have assisted 22,000 individuals exit shelter; creating a multi-agency program to inspect and repair shelters; expanding homeless prevention services; expanding outreach services to homeless individuals on the streets; and launching the City’s largest supportive housing program that will create over 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years. Read the Mayor’s press release here: City Announces Comprehensive Review of Homeless Service Agencies and Programs
This initiative is a recognition that the homeless service agency created twenty years ago needs an overhaul in order to better address the needs of the individuals and family members who call shelters home. The Mayor’s goals reflect an understanding that homelessness is a multi-faceted problem that requires multi-faceted solutions. Most if not all New Yorkers share the goal of seeing homeless individuals housed in safe, sanitary, and decent housing. The challenge is how to accomplish this in a real estate market that prices many out of affordable housing and with populations who have a high rate of joblessness and multiple health and mental health issues that go untreated – to name a few of the challenges.
The Mayor needs the support of all New Yorkers as he embarks on this bold yet difficult plan to solve the homeless problem. With the commitment and resources to see that all New Yorkers are housed, progress can be made.
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