Mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia says she has a plan to address the soaring rise in homelessness in New York.
Manhattanites and those in the outer boroughs are hard-pressed to walk a few blocks without encountering an individual suffering from homelessness, leading many activist groups to stage protests calling for housing as a human right while others point fingers to the crisis as cause for the rise in violent crime.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many in dire straits, but an unabated surge in destitution has been a problem for the city prior to the arrival of the novel coronavirus.
On Wednesday afternoon, Garcia joined housing advocate Tracy Nuzzo outside HRA Men’s Shelter on East 30th Street to unveil her “Housing Heals” plan, which she believes will vastly reduce the number of unhoused residents to statistics the city has not seen in 20 years.
“Homelessness is solved one New Yorker at a time with supportive services, empathetic outreach, and permanent housing. We must treat homelessness as an emergency and focus on the right outcome—permanent housing,” Garcia said.
The mayoral hopeful believes that with an infusion of federal funds, an investment can be made to shift the city’s approach from a shelter-first strategy to a housing-first strategy. She stated that within the past 10 years, New York has seen an additional 500,000 New York residents, but there has only been an increase of 100,000 in new housing.
“We can’t afford to take a Band-Aid approach anymore. We can’t afford to spend $3 billion on a shelter system that does not work for families or individuals that are in those shelters. Of that, $400 million is to rent hotel rooms that are temporary and don’t provide the necessary support,” Garcia said.
Additionally, Garcia is appalled that the majority of those who are in city shelters are disproportionately Black and Brown. She believes it is time to change the system by creating permanent safe housing through purchasing underutilized or empty private properties and then convert them.
Garcia’s strategy is to create a team that will develop pragmatic solutions to address housing, which she believes starts with being housing orientated and not focused on shelters. She promises to create 10,000 units of supportive housing that provide “wrap around services.” This additional assistance will include access to mental health services, addiction help, education, job readiness, and more.
Although this sounds like a lofty promise, Nuzzo, a woman who has been impacted by the shelter system, not only supports the idea, but she also believes it is an achievable goal. Nuzzo became emotional while discussing her history, reminding the city that even a woman who worked for 12 years as a private flight attendant, jet setting across the globe staying at five-star hotels could end up living on the streets, homeless.
Nuzzo said in 2019 she was the face of homelessness.
“Becoming homeless isn’t as difficult as you think. It could happen to anybody who is one paycheck away from losing their housing or one emergency away from the streets,” Nuzzo said, with tears streaming down her face.
Nuzzo was very much shelter resistant until one day, when an outreach team approached her and provided her with the option of living in a safe haven and the program, street to home. She says against her better judgement she stayed and found that her own personal experience fulfilled many of the stories of crime infestation and violence.
“If you offer anybody anything more than three times and they refuse, you are offering the wrong thing, and that is exactly what is wrong with the shelter first housing model,” Nuzzo said.
Nuzzo added, “Many people will say that the system is broken, and I am here to tell you that it simply is not true. The system is working precisely as it was designed; it’s a murky and confusing system with zero transparency and no accountability,” Nuzzo said, describing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lack of ability to run a better system and his constant bickering with Governor Andrew Cuomo instead of constructing low-income housing.
Nuzzo believes Garcia’s housing first model is what New York City needs after the pandemic has caused such a devastating economic crisis on its residents.
Fellow mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan also applauded Garcia’s concept to eliminate homelessness, which he calls “forward concrete plans.”
“Last week, I challenged my fellow candidates to come to the first debate with concrete plans to address the city’s skyrocketing homelessness, and I am glad to see that Kathryn is answering that call,” said Donovan in a press release. “Our city needs a mayor who understands its most pressing challenges and has laid out clear plans to solve them. I have spent my entire career fighting to get and keep New Yorkers housed, from my early years creating affordable housing with community leaders across the city, to reducing street homelessness in NYC by a third during my time as HPD Commissioner — something that has been drastically reversed under the current administration. I look forward to seeing Kathryn’s specific plans to address an issue that is top of mind for NYC voters and has been top of mind for me since I began my career in public service over 30 years ago.”
Among Garcia’s plans to create more housing units, she also promises to invest in 10 drop-in centers in high-risk areas to help rebuild trust with those struggling in housing, offering 24-hour service. She also vows to protect those most vulnerable from losing their current housing as New Yorkers near the end of the eviction moratorium by making sure they have a right to counsel and expand rental assistance programs.
“Housing heals. Housing gives you a firm and grounded place to rebuild your life and reclaim your place in the world. My housing that heals plan lays out a vision to make systemic changes to drive down the number of unhoused New Yorkers by half in my first term,” Garcia said, aiming to help the 55,000 New Yorkers that are currently facing homelessness.