Governor Cuomo’s newfound obsession with the numbers of homeless New Yorkers sleeping on the subways is perplexing given that his administration has spent the better part of a decade failing to truly help homeless New Yorkers and, at times, exacerbating the crisis. When Governor Cuomo took office in January 2011, the NYC shelter census was 39,483. Now, it’s 61,054 – a 55 percent increase. Unfortunately, it appears that Governor Cuomo’s recent attention to homelessness will result in short-sighted and harmful criminalization of vulnerable New Yorkers, rather than actually investing in housing and support services that can get at the root causes of the issue.
In addition to systematically shifting the cost of shelters to municipalities, and discharging thousands of people directly from State prisons to NYC shelters, Governor Cuomo and his administration have stood in the way of desperately needed permanent housing that would prevent and reduce homelessness. One egregious example is the State’s delays in releasing funds for supportive housing, which pairs the stability of a permanent home with support services for people dealing with mental illness or other challenges. After failing to reach a joint City-State agreement, Governor Cuomo promised to create 20,000 new units of supportive housing statewide – but then needlessly refused to release the first tranche of funds for more than a year, as the numbers of people in shelters and on the streets increased.
Furthermore, Governor Cuomo has been the main obstacle to the multiyear campaign to pass Home Stability Support, a statewide rent subsidy for households on public assistance who are homeless or at risk of losing their housing due to eviction, domestic violence, or hazardous housing conditions. Despite wide bipartisan support, Governor Cuomo has obstinately resisted Home Stability Support. Christopher Robbins wrote about the Governor’s role in the current homelessness crisis for Gothamist:
“Governor Cuomo’s failure to address homelessness is his failure to focus on the root causes of homelessness, and in lieu of that, focusing on press releases that don’t end up meaning anything,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director for Coalition for the Homeless.
Last week, Cuomo ordered the MTA to hire more police officers to deal with “quality of life issues” for riders caused by the homeless and the “dangerously mentally ill.” Routhier calls that “a superficial approach to the problem.”
Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger, who is co-sponsoring a bill that would create a state rental subsidy plan for homeless families—that the governor has refused to support—argues that “the state should be taking a much more activist role.”
“Anyone who says, ‘first you wait for them to be homeless then you deal with it,’ I don’t think they live on planet Earth at this point,” Krueger told Gothamist. “It’s so much more of an expensive and emotionally damaging model.”
Supporters of the Home Stability Support legislation say that it would help 80,000 households at an annual cost of $400 million, funded by the state and the federal government, ramped up over a five-year period. An analysis done by City Comptroller Scott Stringer showed the measure would save the city more than $300 million a year by its tenth year.
The rent subsidy bill had bipartisan support in the state legislature this year, but still failed to pass.
“Even as a fiscal conservative I think I look at this bill not as a giveaway but as a make-sense way of keeping people in their homes,” said State Senator Phil Boyle, a Long Island Republican. “And hopefully making a system whereby people can stay in their homes and not be on the street, or having to go to finding government-funded housing, which is going to cost a heck of a lot more.”