War on Homelessness Rages on in NYC

Queens Chronicle - November 22, 2019

by Katherine Donlevy, Associate Editor

Mayor de Blasio announced his latest efforts to combat the New York City homelessness crisis on Thursday, Nov. 14.

Outreach NYC will implement training within multiple city agencies across the five boroughs toward the goal of helping homeless New Yorkers transition off the streets and out of the subways toward permanent shelter.

“We cannot attempt to address this issue in a vacuum. It’s time we all wear one uniform,” said de Blasio. “Outreach NYC is our all-hands-on-deck approach to bring even more people in off the streets.”

Through the initative, the de Blasio administration has already begun training 18,000 employees from various city departments including Sanitation, Health and Mental Hygiene, Buildings, Parks and the FDNY. When confronted with an unsheltered or homeless individual, agency staff is required to submit Service Requests via 311, which will be routed to the city’s new Joint Command Center, managed by the Department of Homeless Services and NYPD. The JCC, made up of relevant agency experts, was created to develop tailored approaches to engaging with homeless indivuals based on their specific needs, such as mental health issues and substance abuse. DHS will analyze trends and triage requests in order to deploy Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams in real time. Individuals can accept outreach help, but can’t be involuntarily removed from the street.

Furthermore, the city is in the process of hiring additional outreach workers for a grand total of 550 employees, tripling the number of staff at the start of de Blasio’s administration in 2014.

Outreach NYC comes as the next step in de Blasio’s goal to decrease homelessness — which has increased under his administration — following the 2016 HOME-STAT introduction and 2017 Turning the Tide on Homelessness plan to revamp the shelter system over the course of five years.

“With compassionate frontline public servants acting as additional eyes and ears, helping our HOME-STAT teams further target their outreach and meet people where they are, we remain squarely focused on taking this progress further,” said Department of Social Services Commisioner Steven Banks.

Despite the initiative’s good intentions, some elected officials and activists remain apprehensive.

“It is unclear to me how this solves the problem,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills). “As elected officials, we should be listening to the advocates on the ground who see the human impacts of this crisis every day and implement the solutions they are calling for.”

Among such advocates, the Coalition for the Homeless has been working for over 35 years to implement cost-effective strategies for combating the homelessness crisis in New York City. Policy Director Giselle Routhier is unconvinced that Outreach NYC wasn’t created for appearance purposes.

“The Mayor’s grand outreach plan is to implement mass surveillance of homeless New Yorkers, without necessary additional investments in real solutions like housing or low-threshold shelters,” Routhier said in a prepared response statement. “This is not a plan to ‘help’ anyone. It is a chilling and counter-productive plan to try to drive the problem out of sight.”