Mayor Bill de Blasio this week produced an extensive plan to improve the city’s approach to housing the homeless. But what will it DO?
NYC’s rise in homelessness became more noticeable last summer, and the number of individuals in shelters now hovers around 58,000. De Blasio has thrown many different solutions at the issue. Some are significant, others far more incremental — so the mayor can say he’s trying.
In his latest attempt, de Blasio is combining the Department of Homeless Services and the Human Resources Administration under one commissioner. But even as he consolidates with one hand, he’s creating an interagency “accountability council” with the other. In addition, the mayor announced plans to streamline rental assistance programs, fully launch the Home Stat street response program, expand data collection and reporting, and improve shelters.
Saving money is certainly a good goal. And if the efforts create safer, better shelters or make it easier for individuals who are homeless to get services, they’re worth applause. But there’s no certainty. Instead, this appears to be a bureaucratic shuffle to show the city is doing something — anything. If the mayor were playing chess, he’d be moving the pawns around without ever getting to checkmate.
Will changing the management structure help people on the streets or in shelters? Will an accountability council actually be accountable, or just add to an already overlayered bureaucracy that is often unaccountable?
The real answer to the city’s struggle with homelessness is more complex. It lies in preventing it in the first place. Solutions include effective rental assistance and tenant advocacy programs, and providing housing, particularly supportive units so critical for those who are troubled by mental illness or drug addiction. De Blasio knows this, and a plan to build that housing is there, but it will take time. City officials seem to think they need to take smaller steps now.
But action for action’s sake isn’t enough. Sometimes, while you’re rearranging pieces on the board, you find yourself losing the game. Those who are homeless need attentive leadership and real change. Whether City Hall’s moves do anything toward those goals remains to be seen.