Combatting A Crisis: The Fight Against Homelessness in NYC

Combatting A Crisis: The Fight Against Homelessness in NYC

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BED-STUY, BROOKLYN – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently rolled out a fresh approach to fighting homelessness, vowing to “turn the tide” on a crisis that has risen close to historic levels under his watch.

90 new homeless shelters will open across New York City by 2021 under the mayor’s new plan, while the Department of Homeless Services works simultaneously to decrease the total number of shelters it operates by 45 percent. DHS has already begun to phase out the use of 360 cluster apartments and pricey commercial hotel’s currently used to supplement traditional shelters and will complete the process by 2021 and 2023, respectively.

“We’re trying to create a different type of shelter system that helps people be closer to their home,” Mayor de Blasio said at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn on March 10th, answering questions about the plan for the first time in a public forum.

Mayor de Blasio answers a question about his “borough-based” approach to sheltering the homeless. (Photo: Alexander M. Pineda)

The mayor says his office is prioritizing people like Anna Corrado, a 25-year-old married mother of two from the Bronx, who is currently being sheltered in a tiny one-bedroom cluster apartment in Brooklyn.

“I think its common sense,” de Blasio declared as he defended his new strategy. “If you come from Brooklyn, why are we putting you in shelter in Queens or the Bronx?”

City officials say the guiding principal to the mayor’s “borough-based” approach to sheltering the homeless is community and people first, as the mayor believes that people who fall homeless are better served by being sheltered in their borough of origin.

The Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy and social services organization dedicated to helping the homeless, supports the mayor’s plan to end the use hotels and clusters.

The coalition also likes the idea of sheltering people in traditional shelters within their own communities, but would prefer to see the administration focus on permanent housing.

“We think traditional shelters are better than clusters and hotels.” said Jacquelyn Simone, a policy analyst for the coalition in an interview at the organization’s Manhattan office. “However, we think that permanent housing is better than traditional shelters.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams voiced his opposition at the start of the town hall, admitting that he tensed up with anger when he first heard about the mayor’s plan.

The Coalition’s Grand Central Food Program provides 1,000 warm, nutritious meals each night to homeless people on the streets of New York City. (Photo: Alexander Pineda)

“We have been over-saturated with homeless shelters,” Adams said, frustrated by the announcement of three new shelters slated to open in Brooklyn as de Blasio puts his plan in motion.

Still, Adams pleaded with locals to resist shelters with respect and to remember that no one is homelessness by choice.

“These folks that are homeless are not from Oklahoma or Mars, these are our neighbors that fell on hard times,” said Adams, imploring community leaders to extend an open hand to those in need.

Despite 96 percent of New Yorkers calling homelessness “a serious problem,” according to a Quinnipiac poll released in March, city hall has a long way to go to rally public support for the plan as people remain weary of shelters near their homes.

“Everybody needs a home,” said Martha Jackson, a Brooklyn resident who expressed sympathy for the homeless. “But, we are surrounded by shelters.”

Another member of the community pressed the mayor on whether or not fair share laws, which are meant to ensure parity in the way public facilities are distributed around the city, are being properly followed as the city sites new shelters.

The mayor assured community members that his intent behind opening 90 new shelters is to have enough shelter beds in every community board across all five boroughs — including the Park Slope neighborhood he calls home — to accommodate the number local residents who become homeless from each respective community.

“I don’t blame you for any noble skepticism,” said de Blasio. “But I do ask you to keep an open mind and to watch as we do this because I ultimately think it will be a better way for our city.”

This excerpt is from Alexander Pineda’s capstone project for the MA in Journalism program. To access Alex Pineda’s full capstone project please click here.