NYC’s New Homeless Plan Will Solve a Big Problem, Although It’s Only Tip of Iceberg

NYC's strategy to track homeless chips away at bigger problem
December 23, 2015 Updated: December 24, 2015

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new strategy to track the homeless through Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams (HOME-STAT) will likely solve a critical problem that has prevented his administration from reducing homelessness in the city: communication between city agencies, private organizations, and those who are sleeping on the streets.

From Canal Street to 145th Street, a team from the Department of Homeless Services will do daily, block-by-block assessments of the homeless. Do they need treatment for mental health? Addiction? Or affordable housing? Caseworkers will develop relationships with the homeless, connect them to existing resources, and monitor their progress.

Connecting New Yorkers who live on our streets to available help requires a block-by-block, proactive approach.
— Debi Rose, council member

This is an important strategy because up until now, the city hasn’t had an effective way of tracking the 3,000 to 4,000 people who sleep on the streets.

“The street homeless are often left off the radar,” said Craig Mayes, CEO of NYC Rescue Mission, a nonprofit a that feeds, houses, and rehabilitates the homeless.

Instead, most of the focus has been on helping those who are already in the shelter system.

In an earlier article, the Epoch Times found that many homeless people slept on the streets because they had experienced theft or violence in shelters.

They weren’t aware of alternative options—such as drop-in centers throughout the city that provide meals, showers, laundry facilities, clothing, medical care, and most importantly, social services such as employment referrals.

“Connecting New Yorkers who live on our streets to available help requires a block-by-block, proactive approach, and that is what NYC HOME-STAT does,” Council Member Debi Rose said in a statement.

Yet during a time when homelessness is at a record high in the city, this initiative is only addressing the tip of the iceberg.

Long-Term Solutions

What is a long-term solution to reducing homelessness in New York City?

“If I had the answer I’d win a Nobel Prize,” Mayes said.

Mayes recalled a homeless person with schizophrenia who slept on cardboard outdoors in Tribeca. The man’s family convinced him to get treatment. He did. A few months later, he was sleeping on cardboard again.

“You can’t force someone to stay in a program,” Mayes said. “You just have to keep trying, keep giving opportunities.”

Mayes added that even after homeless people receive mental health or addiction treatment, it’s difficult for them to find affordable housing. They end up living in neighborhoods that tempt them to return to bad habits like drugs and alcohol.

“We have an affordable housing and transitional housing issue,” Mayes said. “A lot more needs to be done, but it’s a good first step.”

HOME-STAT launched in mid-December and will operate fully by March.

“Homelessness has been a problem in New York City for 30, 40 years now, going back to the Koch administration,” the mayor said in a statement. “But we finally have the tools we’ve needed for a long time.”