The downtrodden’s problems in New York City long festered because “the crass political world” doesn’t care about poor people — and they don’t vote, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.
Speaking as his mayoralty confronts record-high homelessness, the Democrat said he took office in 2014 with already-high numbers of homeless people, brutal city jails and dilapidated public housing.
“I think for a long, long time in our society, the needs of poor people have been ignored. I think a lot of people’s problems were swept under the rug,” said de Blasio, who says about 60,000 people are living in shelters and on the streets.
“And I think in the crass political world, these were people who quote-unquote didn’t vote and therefore they didn’t matter to some people. I think that’s sick but I think that’s real.”
Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for de Blasio’s immediate predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, declined to comment.
After initially shrugging off the homelessness spike as a tabloid exaggeration, de Blasio announced late last year the sudden resignation of his homelessness commissioner, a shake-up in policy, and a pending analysis of how the city’s bureaucracy should address the problem. He’s held event after event showcasing how the city is dealing with the crisis.
De Blasio blames the increase in homelessness on the ending of the Advantage program — which provided rental assistance — in 2011, when 37,000 people were homeless. It was 53,000 when de Blasio took office.
“I am taking the gloves off on this issue,” de Blasio said. Adding, “Where was the outrage? Where were the protests? Where were the front-page exposés? So please, bring them to us, cause we’re ready for them. We’re owning this issue 110 percent.”
De Blasio pointed to other agencies that were in dire shape, such as the jails, when he took office. The U.S. attorney has called Rikers Island a place with a “deep-seated culture of violence.”
De Blasio, who suggested that he would soon issue numerical goals on homeless reduction, delivered his analysis at Covenant House, a shelter for young people, where he announced that the city would be adding 300 beds for homeless youth over the next three years.
The shelter houses young people like Africa Spruiells, 21, who works for $10 an hour as a barista at a Times Square Dean &amp; DeLuca. She’s saving up for her own apartment after a hardscrabble life in foster care, sleeping on the streets, in the airport and subways.
“With the cost of living,” she said of her finances, “it doesn’t add up.”