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De Blasio unveils plan to open 90 homeless shelters citywide

The mayor intends to shut down cluster-site housing and end the practice of using hotels as shelters.

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his plan to "turn the tide on homelessness" on Feb. 2Pacific Press/Getty

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a plan to open 90 homeless shelters throughout New York City by 2021 and adopt a policy that keepshomeless people closeto the neighborhoods they come from.

At the same time as those 90 new shelters are opened, he intends to close down 360 facilities, most of which are cluster-site housing, where families live together in often objectionable conditions in landlord-operated shelters.

The mayor also pledged to eliminate the use of hotels for additional sheltering by 2023. That practice has drawn criticism for costing the city about $400,000 a day.

“This is a blood and guts war strategy,” de Blasio said during a speech Tuesday to explain how he intends to reduce the 60,000 shelter population by 2,500 people over five years. He emphasized that it will be a slow battle with incremental progress.

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The plan is detailed in a 114-page report entitled“Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City.” The booklet does not discuss how the new plan will be financed.

Homelessness has climbed for 35 years;policies in former administrations and the impact of the Great Recession drove morepeople onto the street, de Blasio said.

“For years, too many families have struggled against rising rents to stay in the homes and communities they love," he said. "Our plan will continue to bring more people off the streets, reduce the number of shelter sites by almost half, while strengthening services and keeping homeless New Yorkers closer to the supports they need to help them get back on their feet.”

At the heart of the new plan is a philosophy to provide individuals and families with individualized attention, like that offered through the HomeStat workers who aim to get to know homeless individuals, andto keep them in the boroughs and as close to the neighborhoods they come from. As it stands, homeless people from all over the city are frequently placed in shelters far from their familiar surroundings, social supports and families, which the mayor argues reduces the ability to overcome badcircumstances.

One issue the plan seeks to address is how some areas are overburdened with shelters, such as the Bronx with its 85 shelters and 215 cluster sites. It's a revamp of the city's 1989 Fair Share initiative that aims to more evenly disperse the shelter system. The mayor said he expects to encounter resistance from some communities that don’t want homeless shelters in their neighborhoods.

To this point, the administration's effortsto reduce homelessness and accommodate the current homeless population includes programs providing money incentives to the relatives and friends of the homeless who take them in,free legal representation to people facing eviction and affordable housing developments.

Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier told Metro that while her organization applauds de Blasio’s moral commitment to provide appropriate shelter accommodations to all homeless, she is concerned the plan does not do enough to address the main cause of homelessness — lack of affordable housing.

“The plan focuses on reducing the reliance on poor models of shelter, and people do deserve better conditions, but it doesn’t include any comprehensive plan for affordable housing,” Routhier said.

The mayor’s affordable housing projects underway, she argues, will still be unaffordable for those with the most severe housing needs. While the mayor has been “better than the previous administration with using NYCHA housing, he’s placed about 1,500 — it needs to be double,” she said.

As for resistance from the communities, Routhier said that “it’s important not to just be thinking about what the neighbors want, but what the families actually need — reducing the trauma they face — making sure they are not displaced from their neighborhood, from their borough, from their social supports.”

“I don’t know how practically easy that will be — but I agree with that goal,” she said.

 
 
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