Lilliam Barrios-Paoli: A Welcome Choice for Deputy Mayor

We congratulate Lilliam Barrios-Paoli on her appointment as Mayor-elect de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. Her comments at yesterday’s press conference announcing her selection show why she is the right person to help tackle record-high NYC homelessness.

Mary Brosnahan, the Coalition’s President & CEO, shared the following statement yesterday upon hearing news of the appointment:

“Lilliam is perhaps the best regarded and most seasoned leader in the social services arena. She is smart, dedicated and tireless – exactly the combination New York needs to reverse record homelessness and restore hope to our most vulnerable neighbors. The Coalition for the Homeless looks forward to working closely with her and the new mayor to craft sensible, cost-effective and compassionate solutions to homelessness and poverty.”

At yesterday’s press conference, both Barrios-Paoli and de Blasio made powerful statements about the need to change direction from the Bloomberg administration’s disastrous homeless policies. The Mayor-elect opened the event by speaking directly and passionately about soaring and record homelessness in New York City, and referencing this week’s remarkable New York Times series about Dasani, one of our city’s 22,000+ homeless children:

When it comes to the question of the tale of two cities we face today that we must address, again the numbers have to be looked at squarely. Forty-six percent of New Yorkers at or near the poverty level. More than 50,000 people in homeless shelters. Over 20,000 of them children. Both unprecedentedly high levels….

Those are the statistics, those are the trends, those are the problems, now let’s make it very personal.… And the articles we’ve seen this week on the front page of The Times are exemplary in that. The story of this one young lady, Dasani: I can tell you having criss-crossed this city and talked to all sorts of people this week, it’s been gripping to a lot of people. It’s been gripping to all of us who are part of this transition. Not that we didn’t know these problems existed before, but to see them through the eyes of one child, of one family brings it home in a very forceful way.

And to hear the challenges that this family has faced in a shelter, living in a way that is not acceptable for any New Yorker to live, literally just blocks away from million-dollar brownstones – if you ever needed an illustration of what the tale of two cities is all about, there you have it. We are simply not going to allow this kind of reality to continue. The sad fact is that some of our city’s policies and some of our approach over the years has not helped people to transcend their challenges. In some ways, unfortunately, some of these policies, some of these approaches have kept people stuck in place. And we’re not going to let down Dasani or any young woman or any young man like her. It’s our job to do better for them.

It’s clear we have to address the situation of our shelters. We have the highest number of people in shelter in the history of this city, the highest number in the city-run shelter system ever, the highest number of people who are homeless in any sense literally since the Great Depression and it simply can’t continue. So we will address the problems in the shelter system and we will take a very different approach.

And we’re going to use every tool we have. And then we’re going to turn to our partners in the non-profit sector and our friends in the private sector and the foundation world. We’re going to turn to Washington, we’re going to turn to Albany. We’re going to use everything we have to start to turn around this tale of two cities. And I can assure you that we will quickly, quickly focus on the Auburn facility. And we will not allow what’s happening there to continue.

We must get to work on this right away. We can’t let children of this city like Dasani down.

[Emphasis added.]

Barrios-Paoli echoed many of these sentiments in her remarks:

“For a long time, there’s been a very negative perception of who the poor are, and we have mistreated them in many ways,” Ms. Barrios-Paoli said. “We have been punitive. We have assumed that people are poor just because they choose to be poor as opposed to because life happened to them. And I think we need to change that attitude.”

“I would have done many things differently,” she said, speaking of the Bloomberg administration.

“I totally believe that we’re living a tale of two cities. No question about it,” she said, referring to Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme. “I hope to bring a new respect for the poor.”

We congratulate Lilliam Barrios-Paoli on her appointment, and look forward to working with her in the months and years ahead.