NYC Mayor, Police Boss Mark Year Since 2 Officers Were Slain
Bill de Blasio’s plot to be leader of progressive movement fizzles.
NEW YORK (AP) — Accompanied by the sounds of bagpipes and sobs, city officials, family members and police on Sunday honored the lives of two officers who were shot to death a year ago while in their cruiser.This was to have been the year of Bill de Blasio — the year America’s mayor set out to tug urban progressivism center-stage and maybe become a movement superstar in the process.He’s shaking up the city agencies in charge, bidding farewell to his homeless services commissioner after bidding farewell to the deputy mayor once responsible for the issue and bulking up the ranks of police and social workers who will try to bring vagrants someplace better.
As Christmas approaches and cold weather sets in, New York City is expanding an outreach program intended to persuade its homeless population to go to shelters. He’s the Democratic mayor of the greatest city in the world — and his party’s presumptive 2016 presidential nominee would choke on her tongue before she’d say his name in public. Behold the self-portrait of a man of action, a leader who has left behind his previous dismissiveness that an obvious crisis was anything other than under full control. The initiative, dubbed NYC Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Street Action Team, or HOME-STAT, was announced by Mayor de Blasio at a meeting Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported. “Outreach teams have existed for some time, but haven’t always had the resources they need to make the kind of impact they are capable of,” Mr. de Blasio said. That increased frequency of contact, many experts believe, could help persuade the homeless, even those who have lived on the street for years, to finally go to a shelter.
I’m very humbled about that fact.” The mayor, who spent the week tackling the homelessness crisis he had been criticized for not acknowledging sooner, also named a host of big-ticket items he’s proud of, including the expansion of full-day pre-K, improvements in public safety, and the financing of 30,000 units of affordable housing. “Although I’m pleased that we’ve made some real progress . . . and we’ve started some very, very big initiatives, I don’t feel any sense of resting on laurels,” said de Blasio. De Blasio inherited a city all but free of serious crime; a city rolling in dough — a city with vexing problems and elusive solutions but self-confident and optimistic. He has repeatedly blamed a convergence of fates for why more New Yorkers are seeking help: relentlessly rising rents, lagging wages and a hasty withdrawal of city and state funds that once moved the homeless into housing. As part of the initiative, the city’s current outreach staff of 175 will grow to more than 300 to cover an eight-mile stretch of territory in Manhattan, from Canal Street to 145th Street, and in some sections of the city’s other boroughs. Hundreds of NYPD officers in dress uniform, many in tears, stood listening to Liu’s father, Wei Tang Liu, bent over in grief and sobbing as he spoke in Chinese about his only child.
Both then and now, de Blasio also asks New Yorkers to trust that vast infusions of money — into rent grants and into new affordable housing — will stem the human tide. They will work to make more frequent contact with the estimated 3,000 people who live on NYC’s streets, in an effort to offer medical and other services and, crucially, shelter. Liu’s wife, Sandy Liu, translated, breaking down as she spoke her father-in-law’s words: “Before my son’s death, I would hear his voice every day for the past 33 years of his life.” The two officers were shot at point-blank range through their cruiser window.
Just last month 52% of all voters — and 63% of whites — told tabulators that the city “is on the wrong track.” To be sure, it’s not that the city has gone wrong — although it’s headed that way in worrisome ways — so much as it is that de Blasio is following two benchmark mayors who came to office with expansive mandates, precise agendas and extraordinary administrative skills. He stressed that, while the city looks to create permanent affordable housing, it still can offer a bed in a shelter, hotel or room donated by religious organizations. “Now, more than ever, we’re going to provide the housing they need,” the mayor said during a radio interview Friday. “So if we can get them in the right direction, we actually have a place for them to go.” The teams will engage each homeless person and offer services, such as shelter, medical care or a hot shower, officials said. Mike Bloomberg built upon his predecessor’s public-safety reforms; shepherded the city through two grave economic crises, the post-9/11 local contraction and the 2008 recession; and laid the groundwork for significant public-education reform. But de Blasio has also consistently made choices that compounded the crisis he seeks to cure — choices about leadership, about targeting finite resources, about deploying police and about how to pay for increasingly costly commitments.
He had posted on Instagram that he wanted to put “wings on pigs” and referenced Eric Garner, whose police chokehold death led to protests against the New York Police Department. Just a month after de Blasio’s November 2013 election, young Dasani Coates starred in a sweeping New York Times series — as one of 22,000 children growing up in the city’s homeless shelters, left in the lurch first by her family and then by a government that failed to offer a path to life anywhere besides a fetid shelter crawling with sexual predators. “We cannot let children like Dasani down,” the mayor-elect promised, and followed through by appointing Gilbert Taylor to take command of aiding a then-record 50,000 people living in city shelters. Nearly 58,000 people in NYC are homeless but live in shelters operated by the city’s municipal shelter system, a number up 70 percent from a decade ago.
The de Blasio administration has shifted into high gear in recent weeks to combat the homelessness problem after taking months of criticism for not acting quickly. In addition, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said after the mayor’s speech that city police may push for legislation making it easier for police to expel homeless persons from parts of the city. But if there’s been any progress there, it certainly has escaped general notice — which is not surprising, because it’s an impossibility in a city sitting smack in the center of global commerce. The commissioner swiftly shuffled families out of Dasani’s unlivable shelter even as relentless waves sought help in a system where the right to shelter is legally guaranteed. Yes, One Police Plaza seems to be on top of crime, and for that the mayor gets credit, ex officio. (All it took was a near police mutiny that led de Blasio to cede public safety to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.) De Blasio promptly turned the schools over to the United Federation of Teachers.
Plus he laid a contract on the union so lavish that it won’t be paid for until 2020 — setting a potentially ruinous pattern for most other municipal unions. What DHS needed was not a child advocate, but a commissioner with the chops to manage the incoming human tide and quickly move it out of the shelter system. This speaks to incompetent leadership in the relevant agencies and explains why the streets are filled with addicts and the otherwise addled. “Affordable” housing remains another self-defined goal — but the administration’s plans are incoherent and ever shifting. That right, secured through court decree, is not absolute — at least not for families, who each undergo a 10-day investigation to determine whether or not they truly have nowhere else to go.
The city acted without its traditional partner, the state of New York, signaling that it could not wait for the stalled negotiations with the governor’s office over a new long-term housing agreement. Plus, none of them are going anywhere without fundamental outer-borough rezoning — a near-to-impossible challenge that an overmatched City Hall never anticipated and is only now recognizing. Bloomberg, in 2011, sought to impose a similar review for adults, about one in 10 of whom, by his team’s estimation, had friends or family they could rely on to house them. In addition to those living on the streets, the city had nearly 60,000 people, including more than 40,000 families with children, that sought shelter at city-run facilities on December 14, 2015, according to the latest daily report of homelessness in the city.
It’s not a matter of money: Cash is rolling in faster than City Hall can spend it (a challenge, of course, that those union contracts soon will resolve). Because state courts ruled on technical grounds, nothing stops de Blasio and Banks from now devising a fair screening system to ensure that scarce shelter and housing resources go to those who most urgently need them.
The city didn’t get the games, but Bloomberg got the rezoning — and the result will be billions in new tax revenue, plus that stunning new Hudson River skyline. But Bloomberg had a rationale for his miserliness: His homeless officials became convinced that making shelter a ticket to lifelong low-cost housing served as a perverse invitation for aid-seekers to enter the homeless system, diverting emergency resources from those in greatest need. In announcing his new HOME-STAT program last week, de Blasio eight times invoked the phrase “street homeless” or “street homelessness,” as any layman might. In the late 2000s, outreach teams steered nearly 5,000 street residents to next-generation shelters, known as safe havens, designed for those who chafe at strict curfews, drug bans and other rules structuring life in city facilities. Demand was so serious that those safe havens overflowed, prompting a spike in the numbers of chronically homeless in de Blasio’s first months in office, back up to 3,400.
De Blasio, who’d previously shown no interest in the safe havens created by Bloomberg, this fall enthusiastically announced he would double the number of beds in them by next year. While that unit still exists, Bratton says the NYPD’s hands are today tied by court rulings, including one precluding arrests for panhandling (never mind that Bloomberg’s police force operated under the same rulings). Reacting in August to a 59% spike since he took office in New Yorkers’ calls to 311 about homeless people in need of assistance or living in encampments, de Blasio hunkered into denial, blaming the media for unduly alarming the public. With a Daily News reporter in tow, he personally oversaw the rousting of a Bronx druggie den, one of dozens of outdoor encampments he announced the NYPD would disperse.
This was news to nonprofit groups hired by the city to do the painstaking work of cultivating trust with homeless people — many of them clinically paranoid — in hopes of convincing them to bed down in a city-run shelter. De Blasio entered office convinced he could pivot funds used for shelter, currently about $3,200 a month for each family, into lower-cost subsidies to move those same households into permanent housing. To get families out, HRA Commissioner Banks — who last week also assumed control of the Department of Homeless Services to evaluate restructuring — put into place an alphabet of rent-aid programs that have so far helped more than 13,000 move out of shelter. Last week, the City Council approved a 17% hike in budgeted shelter spending for this year, piling on $137.5 million more, $88 million of it from city taxpayers.
Banks and de Blasio say a turning point is on the horizon, as new eviction-prevention programs take hold and stop the needy from clamoring at the shelter door, and as affordable housing construction yields a wave of new apartments.
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