Coalition Testifies on Reinvestment in Communities Impacted by Jail Closures on Rikers Island

On Wednesday, October 2, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society submitted testimony to the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Criminal Justice regarding reinvestment in communities impacted by jail closures on Rikers Island.

The testimony highlighted the connections between homelessness and incarceration, and called on the City to invest in truly affordable permanent housing. We encouraged the City to accelerate the supportive housing production timeline and follow the House Our Future NY Campaign recommendation to create 24,000 new apartments (and preserve the affordability of 6,000 more) specifically for homeless New Yorkers:

Unfortunately, many individuals who are homeless have firsthand experiences with the criminal justice system. Eight percent of all households entering shelters cite “release from jail/prison” or “criminal situation at prior residence” as their precipitating reason for homelessness. An additional 14 percent of all adults and family households cite domestic violence as their precipitating reason for homelessness, which often also entails interactions with the criminal justice system. Countless other homeless New Yorkers have at some point been entangled in the criminal justice system, often related to the systemic criminalization of poverty. New Yorkers who sleep on the streets and in the subways may experience arrests and time spent at Rikers Island for low-level offenses, and the recent City and State promises to more aggressively police quality-of-life issues in the subway system are likely to perpetuate this cycle. Our neighbors who are most directly impacted by mass incarceration are the same people who are at the highest risk of homelessness: low-income people of color. The issues of criminal justice and homelessness are therefore inextricably linked, and any efforts to reform the City’s system of jails must also acknowledge the broader needs of New Yorkers who have been overlooked for too long.

Urgent action is needed to expand the supply of permanent housing necessary to break the cycle of homelessness and criminal justice involvement. Since January 2018, the House Our Future NY Campaign has urged Mayor de Blasio to align his Housing New York 2.0 plan with the reality of record homelessness by building 24,000 new apartments and preserving the affordability of 6,000 more for homeless New Yorkers by 2026. So far, 67 organizations have endorsed the House Our Future NY Campaign, as well as 34 Council Members, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller, and the Borough Presidents from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. We appreciate the Council’s steadfast support in this campaign as we continue to encourage Mayor de Blasio to take action to create this desperately needed housing. Furthermore, we encourage the City to accelerate the timeline for the creation of 15,000 supportive housing apartments by scheduling their completion by 2025 rather than 2030. The foundation of a permanent home can reduce the risk of recidivism and ensure that people who have been cycling between homelessness and incarceration have the stability and supports they need to thrive.

At the hearing, the Council also heard testimony on Intro 1190 regarding drug treatment in shelters. The full testimony can be read here.