BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
Mayor Bill de Blasio this week announced a comprehensive plan to combat homelessness by, among other things, eliminating more than 350 shelter sites and opening 90 new ones. Shelter sites can include cluster apartments — units the city rents in private buildings — and hotel rooms, which cost thousands of dollars per day.
“Right now, 657 buildings are part of the shelter system,” de Blasio said during Tuesday’s announcement, at the Federation for Protestant Welfare Agencies on Broad Street. “We will ultimately be at 364 citywide. We’re also going to go into the existing shelters that have been broken and refurbish them, and we’re going to do a comprehensive effort around the city to bring all shelters to a better standard of quality.”
The first new shelter included in the mayor’s plan is set to open in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in April, with the rest staggered over the next five years. In a bid to head off the outcry that occasionally erupts in neighborhoods where new shelters are slated, de Blasio said communities would get no less than 30 days notice before a shelter site opens. The mayor halted shelter openings for months in 2015 due to vehement community opposition, and dropped a plan to convert a Holiday Inn in Queens into a shelter after residents protested. Anticipating a similar response to his new plan, de Blasio assured attendees at the announcement that pushback would not “change our minds” this time around. “It means we want people to come to the table with us, offer their concerns, if they have an alternative location, we’ll look at that too,” he said.
Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, issued a statement tentatively praising the mayor’s efforts but asking for more. “Mayor de Blasio could immediately and dramatically reduce the number of homeless families by simply increasing the number of NYCHA units for families in shelters from 1,500 a year to 3,000,” Routhier said. According to Routhier’s organization, homelessness in New York City is at its highest rate in years, with 63,000 people in shelters each night, 24,000 of them children.
In a press release issued after the mayor’s speech, elected officials and faith leaders were cautiously optimistic in their support for the mayor. “On this day before Lent, when we Christians take in an especially serious way the Gospel call to love and serve those in need, it is extraordinarily fitting that we would pledge ourselves to the noble cause of caring for the homeless,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that though the 128-page plan has yet to be thoroughly reviewed, “eliminating shelters that consistently don’t meet standards and getting homeless individuals and families out of inappropriate hotel and scatter-site settings are critical priorities.”
Aiming to be upfront about the challenges faced by his administration in combating homelessness, de Blasio repeatedly emphasized that his plan does not tackle the entirety of the city’s homelessness crisis. “We will reduce the number of people in shelter by 2,500 people by the end of the 2021. ... Is it everything we want it to be?” he said. “No. It’s the honest goal.”
Among other updates to his goals and corresponding dates was a pledge to end the use of cluster apartments by 2021, pushed back three years from the original deadline. To do so by 2018, de Blasio said, would have resulted in too much reliance on commercial hotels, the use of which de Blasio promised to phase out of by 2023.
“Are these, again, the most satisfying goals? No. They’re the ones we believe are real,” he said.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org