Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted the city’s homelessness crisis is continuing to worsen because of the “mismanagement” of his nemesis, Mayor Bill de Blasio—despite a spate of recent efforts by City Hall to improve the crumbling shelter system.
Talking to reporters after a press conference in Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo asserted that indigence remains “a growing problem,” and pinned the blame on the city’s operation of the sprawling temporary housing network—a favorite target of his in the last several months. The mayor’s office has maintained the shelter population has plateaued since breaking 60,000 people last year, and rolled out an array of security and building improvements.
“It’s a crisis, it’s a crisis that’s getting worse,” he said, insisting the indigent sleep on the streets because of fear of the shelters, where one man died after a near-decapitation in January. “People in the shelter system have been abused, people in the shelter system have been literally killed, there have been murders in the shelter system. And that is just an unsustainable situation that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone.”
The governor claimed his criticisms have nothing to do with “personal motivation,” despite his ongoing feud with Mr. de Blasio, a fellow Democrat. Instead, he argued his only concern is for the poor souls seeking protection from the elements, and for the vain expenditure of state funds, which he said make up 55 percent of the shelter system budget.
“The shelter system is deplorable. And the state is the regulator, and we can’t allow it to continue, and we won’t allow it to continue,” he said. “If people are being abused, raped and murdered, it’s a safe assumption that the system is not being well-managed, right?”
Mr. Cuomo has engaged in an increasingly bitter and high-profile feud, as his Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance leaked reports of an alleged gang rape in a city shelter to the press. Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, responded with an acid letter denying the incident occurred, accusing the state of acting in bad faith and of denying the city key resources to deal with homelessness.
Mr. Banks has also complained that the state has been unresponsive to many of his requests, and Mr. Cuomo’s office has asserted that Mr. Banks—a former Legal Aid Society attorney who led the organization—is unqualified to handle homelessness services.
A recent report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli claimed that the state shares in the blame for the decrepit and dangerous conditions in the shelters—for failing to inspect and respond to problems in the system. Mr. Cuomo said today he agreed with Mr. DiNapoli’s findings, and said he was now looking to rectify the situation.
“When the city was mismanaging the system, the state was not aggressive enough in stepping in to remedy the city’s mismanagement,” Mr. Cuomo said. “That was the point in the state comptroller’s report—that the mismanagement by the city was flagrant, and the state should be more aggressive in stepping in to remedy the mismanagement of the city. I agreed with the thrust of that report.”
“The state’s role is to supervise the management of the city. And if there is mismanagement in the city, shouldn’t the state be more aggressive in stepping in? And I said ‘we will,’ and we will,” he continued.
The governor did not specify what steps he would take. He announced in his State of the State address in January that he was putting city Comptroller Scott Stringer, another de Blasio rival, in charge of generating a comprehensive report on the shelter system.
Mr. de Blasio’s office defended Mr. Banks and its efforts to address homelessness, and called on Mr. Cuomo to “enter into a productive partnership” with the city to combat the problem.
“This administration has put into place the most comprehensive effort to prevent and reduce homelessness in the country,” said spokeswoman Karen Hinton. “It is being managed by one of the most well-respected Legal Aid attorneys in the city.”
The mayor’s team has noted the homeless population began to swell under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and has blamed the problem on rising rents and the loss of city and state assistance programs.
Updated to include comment from Ms. Hinton.