On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to turn the tide on homelessness in NYC by building new shelters. It’s a good addition to his efforts, though de Blasio’s previous strategies haven’t had much traction in reducing homelessness.
Then again, it’s not a new issue, and it’s an incredibly complex problem. For decades, administrations have waged a sometimes more and sometimes less fervent war on homelessness. But it’s always unacceptable to have such neediness present in a city with such great wealth.
With more than 60,000 individuals in shelters or on the street, support systems are stretched to their seams. NYC provides a roof for those who need it, relying on stopgap measures like hotel rooms, which are expensive and lack services, or “cluster” apartments, which can be unsafe.
De Blasio pledged anew to end the use of cluster sites and hotels, and to provide individuals with shelter in their own communities. The mayor promised to expand 30 shelters and add 90 more in five years, with $300 million in added capital funds, plus savings from closures.
There’s bound to be significant pushback. His administration has seen that aplenty from shelter conversion attempts. De Blasio will need to bring his case to the neighborhoods, with the right message to overcome doubts and objections. And he’ll have to ensure successful oversight for what should be safe, clean shelters. But City Council members have a supportive role to play, too, and communities across the city have a responsibility to host their neighbors and fellow New Yorkers in need.
Shelter construction makes sense, even if the move comes in an election year. But shelters won’t be enough. The problem requires a serious amount of housing at the most affordable level. It requires mental health counseling and street outreach. The mayor has made attempts on these fronts, and he can do more. He said strikingly on Tuesday that he could not see an end to homelessness, and commits to decreasing the shelter population by only 2,500 in the next five years.
That may be all that is possible under current policies, but much more is required.