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NYC pledges to end street homelessness within next five years

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The city estimates some 3,600 New Yorkers live on the streets

NYC pledged 1,000 new apartments to end street homelessness within the next five years.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to “end street homelessness as we know it” in the next five years, by bringing thousands of New Yorkers off the streets and into permanent housing.

The city’s latest plan to combat homelessness, dubbed “The Journey Home,” aims to create 1,000 new permanent apartments and 1,000 additional “Safe Haven” shelter beds, which specifically target street homeless by having fewer restrictions (e.g. no curfew), according to Steven Banks, the city’s Social Service Commissioner.

“We don’t want barriers to be in the way of bringing people off the streets,” Banks said at a press conference unveiling the plan.

Some 3,600 homeless people currently live on city streets, officials estimate, among the city’s total homeless population of roughly 80,000 New Yorkers, according to federal data. In the next four years, the city will “on a rolling basis” add to its more than 1,800 transitional beds across the boroughs through partnerships with community groups and faith-based organizations; Catholic Charities has committed to open five such Safe Haven shelters.

According to Banks, the city has helped nearly 2,500 homeless New Yorkers transition off the streets and into temporary or permanent housing since 2016. Under the new plan, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will work to identify privately owned properties with “a large share of vacancies” to be converted into permanent housing.

To that end, the city is issuing a “Property Pathways” request for expressions of interest (RFEI) from landlords willing to make their buildings available to street homeless. Unlike with other city homelessness programs, people won’t need to already be in shelters or be employed to qualify for the new “low-barrier” housing. The city did not have details on where it expects the housing to be located, or a timeline for when that process will unfold.

Those who live on the city’s street are notoriously difficult to serve because they can be skeptical of homeless outreach workers, Banks stressed. But by expanding outreach services, such as the medical and mental care workers can directly offer to the unsheltered, the city hopes to alleviate some of that distrust. Mayor Bill de Blasio said street homelessness is a “high budget priority” for the city and anticipates funds toward addressing the issue will “approach $100 million” in next year’s budget.

“We believe this is literally the resources we need to end longterm street homelessness in this city,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “It’s as simple as that.”

Homeless advocates, who have long-called on de Blasio to commit additional resources to permanent housing for the homeless, say the housing pledge is “a critical step” toward helping people find safe, permanent homes.

“We are pleased to see Mayor de Blasio moving toward providing the resources that homeless individuals on the street actually need: permanent housing and low-threshold shelters,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.

The city’s pledge for more housing comes as it grapples with record levels of homelessness. The de Blasio administration’s controversial move to send homeless New Yorkers to neighboring cities and out of state has landed the city in legal trouble, with officials in Newark, New Jersey filing a lawsuit to block the practice. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced plans to join Newark’s legal challenge during de Blasio’s announcement on street homelessness.

De Blasio has also faced deepening criticism of his affordable housing plan and the little it does to help those transition from shelters into permanent homes. To address these shortcomings, city officials have agreed to force developers of certain affordable housing projects to set aside 15 percent of a property’s units for the formerly homeless. The new requirement is at the heart of legislation that is expected to pass the City Council this week.