Mayor de Blasio Unveils Plan to Track Homeless Population
Amid crisis, NYC mayor expands outreach to street homeless.
Vowing never to return to the “bad old days,” Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday unveiled a plan to combat and better monitor street homelessness in New York City, a problem that has emerged as a full-bore political crisis for his administration. Mr. de Blasio, speaking to a civic group in Manhattan, said he would employ a strategy similar to the CompStat program that the Police Department uses to map and respond to crime, greatly expanding the number of police officers in an unit focused on the homeless.
The new program, announced at a high-profile speech to a major New York business group, is the latest in a series of moves by City Hall meant to show that it is urgently combatting the homelessness crisis after taking months of criticism that it was slow to address the problem. The plan — dubbed “HOME-STAT,” an acronym for Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams — will add 137 more workers to the Department of Homeless Services for a total of 312 and 40 more cops to the NYPD’s homeless outreach unit for a total of 110. Inviting a handful of the “NYC Home Stat Homeless Outreach” workers clad in fluorescent-colored uniforms to the front of a business leaders breakfast, de Blasio said the teams would focus on the area from Canal Street to 145th Street in Manhattan and parts of the other boroughs. They will be tasked with engaging the homeless to offer services and urge them to seek shelter. “The truth is that no city in this nation has cracked the code and figured out how to solve this crisis,” the mayor said in a speech to the Association for a Better New York. “But Home-Stat will be the most comprehensive street homelessness outreach effort ever deployed in a major American city.” De Blasio has made clear he believes the problem predates him and says that a shrinking amount of affordable housing is largely to blame for the rise in homelessness. As recently as August, de Blasio denied the problem even existed despite repeated exposes in The Post that the population of aggressive, emotionally disturbed vagrants were urinating in public, harassing people on the street and setting up encampments in city parks.
In choosing ABNY as the venue to announce the program, the mayor was returning to an organization that gave him a cool reception three years ago when he said he wanted to finance universal all-day pre-kindergarten with a tax increase on the wealthy. The program received state funding, and the mayor hasn’t pushed for such levies, and instead enlisted many of the city’s corporate elite, through ABNY and other nonprofits, to aid in programs to combat income inequality.
For months, CBS2 has shown the mayor pictures, including one of a homeless man bathing in the fountain in Columbus Circle and another of a woman with her pets begging in front of an Upper West Side theater. The mayor has been criticized in the city’s tabloids for months over an apparent increase in street people, with the New York Post running photographs of vagrants engaged in public urination and building encampments on vacant lots and in parks. If you expect to pay for heat and electricity and hot water and food and clothing and transportation and child care and other costs of being a functional human in this city, it is not sustainable to pay two-thirds of your income on rent.
An additional 3,000 to 4,000 people are estimated to be living on the city’s streets. “I have heard the deep worries of New Yorkers, loud and clear. Mary Brosnahan, head of the Coalition for the Homeless, said the plan should “at long last, bring thousands of homeless New Yorkers in off the streets and into permanent housing.” Police Commissioner William Bratton added he would propose legislative modifications that would give police officers more leeway to deal with the homeless. For instance, the law currently prohibits begging within 10 feet of a bank ATM; Bratton wants that expanded to ATMs found in bodegas and other stores. A similar number lost their homes and entered the city shelter system, which now holds about 58,000, compared with about 23,000 two decades ago, he said. The mayor spoke about homelessness for over half an hour, a period punctuated by a brief round of quiet applause as he touted the city’s removal of 30 homeless “encampments” and the audience seemed unsure of how to respond.
The Deblasio administration has a plan for this, which aims to create or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units in the next decade, in part by giving developers favorable zoning in exchange for requiring them to make a portion of their units affordable. The mid-December speech was originally thought to be a summation of de Blasio’s yearly accomplishments yet the vast majority of it was about homelessness. And its location was also telling: it was to ABNY, one of the city’s most influential groups, where de Blasio first unveiled his plan for universal prekindergarten as a longshot candidate in 2012. One solution would be to simply throw off restrictions and allow developers to build to their heart’s content, until the demand for apartments is satiated. But that would destroy the character of neighborhoods and probably not solve the affordable housing issue anyhow, since developers will naturally cater to the highest-profit sector of the market if at all possible.
There is also the fact that a growing portion of what was presumed to be permanent housing is now being turned into part-time hotels, thanks to AirBnB. The middle class will keep getting pushed farther and farther out from the center of the city… but perhaps some sort of housing tax credit could make rent more affordable here so that we do not become fully economically segregated.
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