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De Blasio unveils plan to end NYC street homelessness

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces a plan to end street homelessness, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Rev. Al Sharpton, in Manhattan on Tuesday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan on Tuesday that he said would "end homelessness as we know it in New York City" within five years.

The plan covers about 1,800 people who have been unsheltered continually, in some cases for years, living in places such as the street, in parks or within the subway system. 

It does not include the 1,800 or so people who are shorter-term members of the city's so-called street-homeless population, or the 62,300 people who, according to the Coalition for the Homeless group, live in homeless shelters.

“You either want to believe that we can solve the problem or you don’t," de Blasio said in discussing the plan at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South in Manhattan. "So this is what I say to all the Doubting Thomases: you could keep doing what we’ve done for years and years and years and if somehow that satisfies you, God bless you. But we are actually saying we believe we can solve long-term homelessness.”

The plan is expected to cost about $100 million for the 2021 fiscal year, de Blasio said. He declined to provide an immediate figure for the five-year life of the plan, which extends after de Blasio is term-limited out of office in 2021. The administration did not define precisely how it determines whether a person has been unsheltered continually.

The money will pay for 1,000 so-called Safe Havens, temporary beds without the typical shelter setup, curfew and sobriety rules; 1,000 "low-barrier permanent apartments," which offer medical and mental health services; expansion of the corps of outreach workers; and "technology enhancements" to power a new 24/7 command center, according to de Blasio’s social services commissioner, Steven Banks.

Between the 2014 and 2019 fiscal years, citywide spending on homelessness more than doubled to $3.2 billion, according to testimony in May before the City Council by City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

How to address the city’s growing homeless population has bedeviled the de Blasio administration for years, and this is his third major effort. Before he took office in January 2014, 53,615 people lived in shelters, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. 

For the early years of his first term, de Blasio dismissed claims of a worsening homeless problem as tabloid hype, but reversed course and acknowledged the numbers after prodding by his own police commissioner, Bill Bratton, and sinking opinion poll numbers. De Blasio announced he would seek to maintain a list of every homeless person, find out why each is homeless, and build more shelters.

Since April 2016, according to a 32-page report outlining the plan, 2,450 New Yorkers have been successfully brought in and remained off the streets through the city's efforts.

In New York City, there is a constitutional right to shelter per a court decree dating to the early 1980s.

De Blasio announced his latest plan Tuesday joined by several religious leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“Under the skyscrapers that we see across the skyline as we come into this city,” Sharpton said, "there’s also the moral imperative to help those that don’t have a place in those skyscrapers and in those large condominiums.”

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