De Blasio Again Brushes Aside Calls for Change to Homeless Housing Approach

Mayor Bill de Blasio brushed aside calls for more affordable housing to tackle homelessness Thursday, saying offering people on the street a place to live would not solve the problem.

Activists have been pressing for a plan that would set aside more subsidized apartments for the homeless, calls that intensified after the recent murders of four homeless men in Chinatown.

“We have to have an honest conversation about folks who are on the street and are homeless,” de Blasio told reporters when asked about the push Thursday. “The folks on the street often are very resistant. There’s a reason they’re on the street.”

Homeless housing activists have argued that permanent housing is more critical than homeless shelters, which many people living on the street shun because they say they’re unsafe.

They have called on the de Blasio administration to include 24,000 new apartments for homeless New Yorkers in the city’s housing plan, and pushed for a City Council bill that would mandate 15 percent of the apartments be set aside for the homeless in all city-subsidized housing developments.

But de Blasio said mental illness and substance abuse, rather than a lack of housing, is driving the street homelessness crisis.

“If it was simply, hey, we have a place for you to stay — we have that right now. They’re offered it all the time,” he said Thursday.

“We’ve got people on the street who are contacted hundreds of times, being offered help who will not accept it,” he said. “So for anyone, even well-intentioned, who says ‘oh if we just had housing that would solve street homelessness’ —  no. That’s not the truth. Most street homelessness is about mental health and substance abuse challenges. That’s what we have to solve first, before we can even get people into housing.”

Giselle Routhier of the Coalition for the Homeless said it’s the mayor who’s off base.

“It’s shocking how little this mayor knows about homelessness after nearly six years in office,” she said in emailed comments. “If Mayor de Blasio actually spoke to a homeless person on the street, he would know that no one would choose the streets over housing.”

“He continues to perpetuate a harmful stereotype of homeless people instead of reckoning with the fact that his own policies are insufficient, and he doesn’t have the political guts to build housing for homeless New Yorkers,” she added.

Paulette Soltani of Vocal-New York concurred.

“Everything about this statement is wrong, out of touch, and misinformed,” she said, adding de Blasio should talk to homeless New Yorkers about what they need to tackle their mental health and substance abuse problems. “The answer will be housing.”

This piece was originally published on PoliticoPro New York.