NEW YORK—Facing record homelessness before he takes office, Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio appointed Lilliam Barrios-Paoli as chief for social services in his administration on Thursday.
Barrios-Paoli, a native of Mexico, currently serves in the Bloomberg administration as commissioner of Department for the Aging. She also worked in the Giuliani and Koch administrations in housing and human resources roles.
De Blasio tasked Barrios-Paoli with finding a way to ease the overtaxed homeless shelters in the city. The homeless population grew to more than 50,000 with more than 22,000 children. Barrios-Paoli will also be responsible with expanding community health clinics and cutting red tape associated with access social services.
“I have spent the bulk of my career to help the poor,” Barrios-Paoli said. “It is incredibly exciting for me to be in an administration that will make that a central tenet, not just an afterthought.”
The mayor-elect and Barrios-Paoli share the common belief that prevention is the key to avoiding social problems.
“I have always believed that helping a family get a rental subsidy for a temporary period of time that would keep them in their apartment and allow them to get their life back together is a much better policy and that is what we look forward to restoring,” de Blasio said.
As a City Council member, de Blasio successfully championed to keep a rental voucher program called Advantage and other homeless prevention services. As a public advocate, an office he has held since 2010, he had less luck.
In the summer of 2011 Advantage was cut during what was a difficult fiscal time for the city. As a result, the shelter population grew by over 10,000—with the average time spent in shelter growing.
The mayor-elect said he tried both publicly and privately to keep the program funded, but acknowledged the Bloomberg administration was less than warm to his policy suggestion.
Now that he is at the helm, de Blasio hopes to get a similar program reinstated in the city. The fiscal outlook for the city is tricky, especially with expired labor contracts to fund, but for a man who was elected on a platform of finally curing the city of its inequality, he sees no choice.
“It is a question of priority,” de Blasio said. “An ever growing homeless population is unacceptable for the future of New York City. It will not happen on our watch.”
Barrios-Paoli said solving the housing shortage is a long-term solution. For the short term she suggested using welfare grants creatively. She argued there was money available within the current budget stream and once in office she would find it.
Federal funding for many cities has been slashed since the recession and New York City found itself having to pick up more of the tab on social services. De Blasio will be looking to Washington for more help and will start with a trip on Friday to the White House.
President Obama, who endorsed de Blasio during the general election, invited 15 new mayors to the White House to discuss job creation and ensuring middle-class families have a pathway to opportunity, according to the New York Observer.
With or without more money from Washington, one thing is clear: de Blasio is set on finding ways to fund the preventative measures.
“If you don’t spend money on the front end to prevent the problem, you will spend more on the back end to deal with it,” de Blasio said.