As thousands of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers endure sub-freezing temperatures on the city’s streets, Mayor de Blasio announced this week a new plan called “The Journey Home” to “end long-term street homelessness” in five years. In the plan, the City commits to creating 1,000 new permanent apartments and 1,000 low-threshold safe haven shelter beds for New Yorkers who have been on the streets for a long time, several hundred of which are already in the development pipeline. This announcement signals that Mayor de Blasio has finally heeded the repeated requests from the Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates to invest in these resources to give people a better, safer option than the streets. Unfortunately, “The Journey Home” also doubles down on the Mayor’s misguided plan to rely on police officers to surveil and engage with homeless New Yorkers, particularly in the subways.
Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier explained in a statement:
“We are pleased to see Mayor de Blasio moving toward providing the resources that homeless individuals on the streets actually need: permanent housing and low-threshold shelters. This investment is a critical step toward helping people find safe and permanent housing. The increased reliance on the NYPD to conduct outreach, however, is counterproductive and misguided. The practice of issuing summonses, surveilling homeless individuals, and coercing people to leave the subways with threats of arrest are inhumane and a misuse of police officers’ time. We urge the Mayor to shift the focus of engagement from NYPD officers to trained social services professionals in all interactions with homeless individuals, and to further build upon these initial investments in housing and safe havens. If we can overcome the rising mistrust that is an inevitable byproduct of NYPD’s increasing contact with homeless people, we should begin to see real progress in reducing the tragedy of street homelessness with these new housing resources.”
Yoav Gonen wrote about the action plan for The City:
Advocates for the homeless said the new push aligns closely with what they’ve been demanding: Alternatives to traditional shelters that many homeless people see as unsafe, overly regimented and offering little privacy.
The concerns are particularly acute for intake centers, which are single adults’ entry point into the city’s homeless services system. The centers are larger than other shelters and have a reputation among homeless people for violence and other criminal activity.
“It’s a really important shift in how the administration has been handling homeless policy — particularly for folks who are on the street,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless. “Up until now every announcement has been about expanding outreach, expanding surveillance… but not adding the resources that people need, which is housing.”
Pushback on Policing
In June, the administration announced a pilot program that would offer homeless people who break MTA subway rules an opportunity to avoid a summons if they agree to engage with social service workers who help them get shelter. The program expanded citywide in August.
That same month, the city also launched a Joint Crisis Coordination Center in Brooklyn where NYPD and Department of Social Services personnel monitor subway system cameras for homeless individuals in real time.
Both moves prompted complaints from advocates, who question the city’s reliance on the NYPD to deal with the homeless.