Two days after announcing the departure of his commissioner of Homeless Services, Mayor Bill de Blasio touted a new initiative to combat what he acknowledged was the most “persistent challenge” of his mayoralty.
Speaking at the Association for a Better New York breakfast at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown this morning, Mr. de Blasio rolled out his new Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Team—or HOME-STAT. He promised that the new division would address the issues of the 3,000 to 4,000 people living on the city’s streets on an individual by individual basis, and with “unprecedented vigor and attention” beginning in March 2016.
“We’ll have the most up-to-date, specific data on the street population we’ve ever had,” he told the audience of business and philanthropic leaders. “And we’ll perform rigorous analyses of that data to determine what people need, what’s working, and what’s not—helping us take important steps to keep street homelessness down in the future.”
HOME-STAT, the mayor explained, will conduct daily checks of every known “hotspot” for gathering indigents between Canal Street and 145th Street to monitor activity and to offer mental health and drug addiction services. The city will assign a caseworker to every single person living on the street.
Mr. de Blasio also promised the new agency will ensure police—in the form of a new unit dedicated to the homeless—or the Department of Homeless Services will respond on the scene to all calls about a person on the street within one hour.
“You can call us, you can approach our HOME-STAT teams on the street or in our subways, and we will deploy the trained professionals to handle the situation in real time,” he vowed.
The mayor emphasized that people have a constitutional right to be on the street. But he said he would crack down on criminal behavior like panhandling and harassment.
The goal, he said, was to get people off the street and into stable housing—whether an affordable apartment, in the 15,000 new units with on-site social services the city is building, or into some sort of treatment center.
“Every single homeless person on the street had their own path there, and every one will have their own path to leave,” he said.
As always, Mr. de Blasio insisted homelessness is a decades-old problem that predates his administration, spans the country and a consequence of the 2008 recession and rising rents. He also admitted not all indigents would be immediately responsive to HOME-STAT’s outreach, and said no city has “cracked the code” of permanently getting all people off the street.
“But HOME-STAT will be the most comprehensive street homelessness outreach effort ever deployed in a major American city,” he maintained. “This is a fundamental change in how our city contends with a situation that has been intractable for so many years.”