New York City Mayor Says Billions Spent on Homeless Will Pay Off Over Time

  • About 58,000 people are living in New York City's shelters
  • The city is spending $2.6 billion for `supportive housing'

New York City’s billion-dollar spending increase on programs attacking homelessness will reduce the number of street people and families in shelters, but it won’t happen overnight, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

After months of enduring tabloid photographs of vagrants urinating in public and editorials blaming the mayor for an increasing population in homeless shelters, de Blasio said his administration has focused on the problem with an array of policies. The efforts include rent subsidies, more legal aid to fight evictions, affordable housing preservation and construction, more safe-haven centers in houses of worship and 15,000 units of housing offering health care, social-services and job training.

“This is a combination of tools that have never been tried before on this scale in the city -- not even close,” de Blasio said during a year-end news briefing. “It will not happen overnight, but I’m convinced it will work.”

New York has almost 58,000 people in shelters now, up from about 50,000 two years ago when de Blasio took office. Another 3,000 to 4,000 live on streets and sidewalks and in subways.

Last week, he introduced Home-Stat, a way for social workers and police to keep a daily census of street people, diverting some to shelters and placing scofflaws under arrest. He’s also vowed to create or preserve 200,000 units of below-market housing.

Police have disbanded more than 30 encampments in public spaces such as parks in the past several months and provided services to homeless individuals, which “didn’t get a lot of attention,” de Blasio said. The living conditions “were horrible for everyone involved.”  

In November, the mayor announced a $2.6 billion plan that over the next 15 years will create 15,000 supportive housing units, where residents of subsidized apartments may receive counseling, health care and job training. The legal anti-eviction effort will cost about $62 million over the next two years. In the budget he signed last May, he included about $100 million for rent subsidies to more than 7,000 households.

“We have to fire on all these cylinders simultaneously,” de Blasio said. “We have to prevent them from ending up in shelter to begin with. We have to get them out of shelter more quickly. We need a host of solutions for people, whether it’s safe havens coming off the street, supportive housing or regular affordable housing, and we need to fix the quality of the shelters we have.”

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