Mayor de Blasio inherited a historic homelessness crisis when he took office last month. But the good news is he can take some immediate steps to reduce New York City’s shelter population with the right mix of housing-based policies.
WNYC’s Mirela Iverac reports on the hope that homeless individuals, as well as advocacy groups, have that the new Mayor and his administration will enact policies long advocated by the Coalition and others to stem the rising tide of homelessness by implementing housing-based policies.
As we have noted many times before, there is overwhelming evidence that providing rent subsidies and reinstating priority referrals for public housing and Section 8 vouchers will effectively reduce homelessness in our city. Individuals and families affected by homelessness know this, and have urged Mayor de Blasio to put these solutions in place:
“On a recent bitterly cold day, standing in front of a shelter in East New York, Cicely had a message for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"Let’s make a change,” she said. “It’s time to make a change because I think it’s unfair the shelter system is so crowded. People is living in these things crowded and clumped in.”
Cicely, 40, who asked WNYC not to use her last name, is among the people who entered the shelter system during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. During that time the number of the city’s homeless increased by 71 percent, reaching a record high of over 53,000, according to the city’s largest advocacy group, the Coalition for the Homeless.
Mayor de Blasio hasn’t shied away from faulting the Bloomberg administration for this situation.
“We have the highest number of people in shelter in the history of this city,” he said. “And it simply can’t continue. We will address the problems of the shelter system and we will take a very different approach.”
Cicely said a part of that approach should be bringing back a rental subsidy like the one she had for two years. It allowed her to rent a home in Staten Island.“
If he gives programs, make it a place where they supply half the rent and we supply the other,” she said. “Like we’re able to save up enough money to meet the match of the rent.”
The Bloomberg administration cancelled the subsidy Cicely had in 2011 after losing the state and federal funding needed to run it. So far half of all families who had the subsidy have returned to the shelters.
And so far it seems the Mayor is listening:
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“Mayor de Blasio said he's working with Governor Cuomo to reinstate a subsidy of that kind. He also plans to bring back priority referrals for public housing and Section 8 vouchers. That sits well with some shelter residents, like Pamela Coley, 49, who is staying at a shelter in Harlem with her 23-year-old son.
“I hope our new Mayor … give us a voucher so we can all get up out of here,” she said. “This is not home.” …
Advocates, on the other hand, said they're satisfied with the proposed changes. After fighting bitterly with Bloomberg, and before him with Mayors Giuliani and Koch, Patrick Markee, of the Coalition for the Homeless, described the Mayor’s moves as “common-sense and compassionate,” adding he expects to see the first results in a year.
“Hopefully we’ll start beginning to stem the tide of rising homelessness,” he said.”