De Blasio Boosts Outreach to Combat New York Street Homelessness

  • Social workers and police will divert street people to shelter
  • De Blasio describes it as the most comprehensive effort ever

Faced with unprecedented numbers of families in shelters and as many as 4,000 people living on New York’s streets, Mayor Bill de Blasio said teams of social workers and police will seek out the homeless to get them services.

The teams will canvass areas of Manhattan from Canal Street to 145th Street in Harlem where the homeless have congregated. Those violating quality-of-life laws by aggressively panhandling, building encampments or publicly urinating will be dealt with by police, while the rest will be handled by outreach workers from the Department of Homeless Services, de Blasio said.

“This is a fundamental change in how our city contends with a situation that has been intractable for so many years,” de Blasio said Thursday in a speech to the Association for a Better New York, a civic organization of business leaders and government policy makers. “The truth is that no city in this nation has cracked the code and figured out how to solve this crisis.’

The program, dubbed HOME-STAT, would be the most comprehensive effort to confront street homelessness in a major American city, involving more than 100 police officers and 300 social-service workers, de Blasio said.

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.

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. The headlines have corresponded with declines in his performance ratings in several opinion polls.

De Blasio has attributed the problem to decreases in state rent subsidies, an unchanged minimum wage over the past several years and the loss of about 400,000 units of affordable housing in the past decade.

Since taking office, the administration has moved more than 22,000 people into apartments from shelters. 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. Last month, the mayor announced a plan to create 15,000 supportive housing units, where residents can receive medical and mental health care, job training and other services.

The mayor has vowed to revamp the city’s policies in recent days, calling for a 90-day review of practices within the Department of Homeless Services after its commissioner, Gilbert Taylor, resigned Wednesday.