Coalition Testifies on Homeless Services Reforms

On Thursday, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare regarding the status of reforms to the Department of Homeless Services and actions needed to address near-record homelessness. The hearing provided an opportunity for DSS Commissioner Steven Banks to provide the Committee with an update regarding the City’s progress in implementing the 46 reforms identified in April 2016 following a comprehensive 90-day review of homeless services. The reforms spanned the categories of prevention, street homelessness, shelter, and rehousing. One year later, some progress has been made, but many issues remain unresolved.

As the Coalition and The Legal Aid Society testified:

In response to the reforms announced in April 2016 and the new plan released this past February, we note the following concerns:

  • Housing Placements: Despite policy changes made by the de Blasio administration to reopen access to NYCHA public housing, Section 8 vouchers, and City-funded subsidies for homeless individuals and families in shelters, the amount of permanent, affordable housing made available to homeless households is still not sufficient to make up for the Lost Decade in which the prior Administration denied access to NYCHA and Section 8 for homeless families, let alone meet the current need. More families are now receiving stable housing placements than any year since 2005, but the number of NYCHA public housing apartments, Section 8 vouchers, and HPD apartments remains below the level needed to make a real dent in homelessness. Our specific recommendations for housing placement goals are outlined below.
  • Intake and Eligibility: We are extremely concerned about the recent dramatic decline in the percentage of families found eligible for shelter after enduring an already-onerous application process. In February 2017, the eligibility rate was just 37.6 percent, down from 46.6 percent in January and from 51.6 percent in February of 2016. The eligibility rate has not been this low since 2012. This disturbing trend is combined with and related to the increasing percentage of families erroneously found ineligible and forced to repeat the application process multiple times before ultimately being found eligible. These needless bureaucratic barriers do not solve homelessness and demonstrably increase the trauma inflicted on homeless families – mostly mothers and children. In addition, the administration has yet to implement recommendation #29 from the 90-day review, which would align the adult family intake process with procedures for families with children. Adult families continue to face many unlawful and unnecessary barriers to shelter entry, and their higher rates of disability present even further obstacles for an extremely fragile population.
  • Mental Health and Medical Needs: A significant number of homeless single adults have serious medical and/or mental health needs. Homeless adults are assigned to either a general population shelter or a specialized shelter, depending on their circumstances. However, specialized shelters for those with mental health and medical needs are struggling to adequately address such needs and have difficulty securing more appropriate permanent housing placements. As the shelter system becomes a last resort for many low-income individuals discharged from hospitals, nursing homes, or psychiatric facilities, far too many find themselves without access to proper health and mental health care.

We commend the administration’s efforts to end the use of cluster sites and hotels – stated as one of the primarily goals of the Mayor’s new plan – and support the goal of creating a shelter system that reduces community displacement and trauma for families who lose their homes. However, we believe a far more robust effort is needed to provide enough affordable housing for homeless individuals and families to meet the tremendous scale of need. Homelessness cannot be solved without recognition that the City cannot solve its homeless crisis without making up for the Lost Decade of NYCHA and Section 8 placements and add far more affordable housing targeted to homeless households. This obvious history and readily available remedy has been ignored in the Mayor’s new plan.

The Coalition also testified in support of Intro 1443, which would require more shelter staff to be trained in lifesaving opioid antagonists.

The full testimony can be read here.