February 28, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio Pastor, thank you so much. I want to really thank you for putting this into powerful perspective. And before I acknowledge some of the dignitaries in room, I want thank everyone here. People in this room have devoted your lives to helping people in need. And you know it’s been a long fight, and you know it will continue to be a long fight, but I don’t see anyone shirking from the fight. I see this as a lifetime commitment.
And we’re blessed in this city that we could fill a room with so many people who feel that.
And there are thousands more like you. So, as I describe this vision, I want to affirm from the beginning, the vision can work, the vision will work, because there an army of people who already believes in uplifting others and have proven it can happen. Even in most complex, most diverse city in the world, we can lift up each other.
I also want to tell you, I had a real pleasure before we started today – six wonderful individuals that I got to spend sometime with, and some of them are here now. All of them were people who were purposeful, energetic, and enthusiastic, focused on bettering themselves and their families, had been working hard, ready work hard. Many working right now, other pursuing work or education – exemplary people. Did I mention they were homeless? And that’s part of what today is all about – recognizing people who are New Yorkers, who are our neighbors, often also grapple with homelessness. That makes them no less New Yorkers, no less our neighbors, no less our fellow human beings.
So, I want to say to Freddy, and Lucy, and Eric, and Pedro, and Ruth, and Oscar, it was my profound pleasure to know you, and I admire the good route and the good path you’re on, and we’re here to support you.
To our wonderful host, Jennifer Jones Austin, who has been my partner in so much work – co-chair of my transition, did extraordinary work helping us build the administration, doing extraordinary work here at the federation. And wherever you go, not just in New York City, but around the country, you can hear her powerful voice. Let’s thank her and all the wonderful people of the federation.
And, Pastor Bernard, this is – I learned a long time ago, one o the go-to people to turn to in this city if you want guidance – by the way, that could be spiritual guidance, that can be human guidance, that can be guidance about how to best serve people because he knows about all those things. But, Pastor, I really appreciated your remarks because I know you’ve spent a lifetime ministering the people in need and you also have – I may not – the biggest congregation in New York City, filled with every kind of people, including people who fought hard to make it against a lot of adversity. So, you speak from a profound sense of the human condition and the reality of the city. But I’ve seen time and time again the good works, not just the good words – the good works you have achieved, and it’s my honor to be your partner in this work. Let’s thank Pastor Bernard.
Many dignitaries – my great uncle was a priest, so he would not forgive me – may he rest in peace – if I did not acknowledge from the Archdiocese of New York and from Catholic Charities, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan – special thank you to you.
And from our administration – and they worked so hard – this is vision we’re laying out today, and, in fact, I am going to – right now I’m going hold up glossy version, and people worked long and hard on this, so it is bedtime reading, everybody.
I need you to take a look at it. But this title was chosen purposely. This is a commitment to turning the tide. This is commitment to doing something different. Now, the folks who worked on this – our Deputy Mayor, Dr. Herminia Palacio; our Commissioner Steve Banks, for Social Services; our OMB Director Dean Fuleihan; our Intergovernmental Director Emma Wolf; and many, many others and their teams. This was a challenging labor because this is tough topic that has defied solution for decades. But this was an honest effort to come to grips with the problem and to speak some truths that had to be spoken and to lay out a path we believe we sustain.
Let’s thank all of them for the work that they do.
I want to thank from labor – and then also been important allies in our efforts to uplift people and to get them good opportunities to get trained and to work – the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, Vinny Alvarez, thank you.
And, finally, elected officials who are here with us – we’ve worked so closely with. I want to thank Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; Councilmember Margaret Chin; Councilmember Helen Rosenthal; and Councilmember Brad Lander. Thank you all.
So, let me start with some more of the human reality. We all feel the problem of homelessness – it’s one of the most intense, visceral, human realities that we experience in this city. It is not easy ever to see someone homeless. It is not easy for that homeless person to be homeless, first and foremost. When you see someone whose life unfortunately led them to a situation where they no longer had a home, you feel pain. You feel pain for them. You feel pain for their family. You feel something’s wrong. I do every time – every single time. Something’s wrong, something’s broken, something has to be fixed – that’s what goes through your heart and your soul.
And, if you’re like me, you feel angry too, because it should not be this way. And we don’t know everyone’s life. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know where things took the wrong turn. We know more and more it is about the cost of living and how hard it is to make ends meet. But we don’t know each individuals story, we just know something’s wrong. So, it’s that strange combination of sorrow and anger I feel every time. I think New Yorkers all over the five boroughs feel it. It is something that is not abstract. It is not something you read about and can't relate to. We can all relate to it in one form or another. Few of us can understand fully what it would mean actually be homeless. And it is hard to imagine people who have worked hard lived by rules and still end up homeless, but that happening every day in this city, and, as Pastor said, all over the country. There are wonderful accomplished people, there some household names even who spent part of their life or part of their childhood in homelessness. So, we have to understand it humanly. We have to understand why it grabs at us so much. We have to understand – and everyone in this room does – it’s the status quo we don't accept. That doesn’t mean we think it is easy to address, but we don't accept it. If we ever accepted the notion of pervasive homelessness, we’d be losing some of our own humanity, and we’re not going to let that happen.
Now, I’m going to say some things today that are painful to hear, and I’m going to say some things that are not politically convenient, because we have to lay it out very plainly. But here’s a fact that suggests something we’ve got grapple with very deeply. We are greatest city in world, that is a fact, too. We are compassionate city in so many ways. But number of people in shelter has trended upward for 35 years – that’s a fact that we don't look in face enough, and that has to stop.
Somehow, we’ve been moving in the wrong direction for three-and-a-half decades. My obligation to provide a strategy. A lot of people said they needed – and rightfully so – they needed hear a clear articulation of vision. There were a lot of pieces that we put into the equation – a lot of tools we use, a lot of initiatives we undertook, but we needed something bigger and stronger, and better, and that’s what this plan is meant to be.
When you read this plan, you understand we do not accept status quo. We intend change the status quo. Now, that he is not a statement – a grandiose statement. I want to be very clear, I’m going to lay out of actual numbers, and the facts, and the vision, and it does not take us to nirvana by any stretch of the imagination. This is blood and guts war strategy, because we will fighting this war for a long time. But I do believe we can do better. I do believe we can disrupt the status quo. And I know the city has the ability to reach more people and to reach them in fairer and better way.
I am going to say it here and every chance I get thereafter – it will be a long, long battle. It will be a tough battle. There is, you know, some times in history, people will be talking about going off to war – real war – military war – and there will be that phrase, oh, you know it will be nothing, the boys will home by Christmas. This opposite, I am telling you here today. We will be at this a long time, because if I told you any thing more pleasant it would not be the truth.
We will make progress, but it will be incremental. It will be slow. And I hope and I believe it will be steady. The more we work together, the better it will go. The more we make it a mission for everyone in city, for faith leaders, for community organizations, for neighborhood residents, for elected officials, for businesses, for labor – the more we make it everyone’s business, the better we’ll do, the faster we will go. But any way you slice it, it will be about incremental progress. But if we sustain incremental progress, it will first time that's happened in three-and-half decades, and that open door to something better up ahead.
It’s a deep-rooted problem. It is not a problem – even though I appreciate very deeply what Jennifer said – I today cannot see an end. I can see improvement and constant progress if we all do things right. But again, I am not going to lie to people New York City and say I have defined end in sight. I know how we get better. I know if we continually do this work, we might find solutions that are even deeper, we might find even better pathway. But, right now, I want break this cycle. I want break the pattern of the last three-and-half decades of us going in the wrong direction. And it has taken us three years to realize some of these hard truths – I want to be very clear about that. There was a lot of trial and error. There’s some things we did that worked. There are somethings we did that didn’t work. There are some things that are beginning work now, but it’s clear how much it is going take to turn the tide. Why? The why is what we have to focus on more than ever, because a lot of people in this room were deeply involved when homelessness in the form we know it today really because a prevalent issue in this city in the early 1980s. And I think it’s fair to say for lot of you who were involved early, it was oftentimes an issue related to single individuals, particularly single men, oftentimes folks who had substance abuse problems, mental health issues, incarceration issues. It didn’t mean there weren’t families involved, didn’t mean there weren’t working people, but not what we can to learn since the Great Recession.
Since the Great Recession, this has become a different and deeper problem because it’s more and more an economic problem. Working people becoming homeless; families in record numbers ending up in shelter; people who don't have any mental health challenges or substance abuse challenges, never been incarcerated, still ending up in shelter – that's what we’re seeing more and more – that’s a more fundamental structural problem.
The numbers speak so clearly. Right now, 70 percent of the folks in shelter are family members. Families in shelter make up 70 percent of our shelter population – very different than what we knew in the past.
As I mentioned, working people – 34 percent of those families have a member of the family working right now. In addition to those who were working recently are those who are in training or education programs. 34 percent have family working right now. What this city has experienced is incessantly higher and higher cost of housing without anywhere near the same increase in the level of wages and compensation – that’s what’s been going on for years and years.
We went through the Great Recession, like every place else in the country, but, unlike every placeless in the country, the cost of housing kept going up through it, during it, after it, and left people in the lurch. And so, a lot of folks are experiencing the phenomenon in their lives – they’re seeing homeless people they don’t even know are homeless. We respond to what we see on the street. A lot of times you’ll be in a store, you’ll be in the grocery store in line, you’ll be at work, you’ll be on the subway, and the person next to you is homeless and you don’t even know it because they’re on their way to work, because they’re taking their kid to school, because they’re dealing with this reality but they don’t wear a badge that says, I’m homeless. Likewise, when you see someone on the street, sometimes we see someone on the street that is homeless 24-hours a day, living on the street – the most unacceptable of all the realities. Sometimes you see someone who’s hanging out on the corner and then goes home to a shelter at night. Sometimes you see someone who’s panhandling – perhaps she has a place to live. And it’s not possible to know which person is homeless, which person is not, or how they are. This has become so much more complicated a reality.
What we do know – and this is something that has begun to work – is that if you agree the most pernicious of all the realities is someone who is street homeless 24-hours a day, permanently – job-one is the help people off the streets and get them to a better life. Here’s where we found a ray of light over the last year – the HOME-STAT initiative, which has attempted to do something that was not done previously – literally go out and meet each individual who is living permanently on the streets, get to know them deeply, understand everything that can be understood about them and their situation, how they got to the street, what that pathway to the street was, what is the best pathway back from the street to a better life. That’s what the HOME-STAT program is about.
I remember Commissioner Banks said to me in the beginning, let’s be clear, it’s not like the first time a HOME-STAT worker who goes up to someone who’s been on the street for a while, they’re going to come right in. I said, okay, Steve, how many times do you think it’s going to take. He said, well, it could be 10 times. It could be 20 times. It could be 100 times. But as the dialog deepens, as the familiarity grows, as the homeless individual comes to trust that worker who keeps coming back, knows them by name, knows their history, knows what went wrong and what they need to get right, our chances will increase.
It’s been about a year. As of today, 690 people have come off the street and stayed off the street.
That is beginning of bigger progress on, again, the single worst element of the homelessness crisis. We’re going to have do it a long time. We’re going to have to prove that it works and that people who come off stay off, but this is it offering us some real hope. But listen to the crucial ingredient there – it is treating the individual as an individual. When the worker comes up to the homeless individual, and knows them by name, and knows their history, and knows about their family, and knows about their life before – maybe they served in the military, maybe they worked in a store, maybe they grew up in a neighborhood that they talk about – when that humanity comes out, that’s when you start to make a deeper connection and can do something different. That’s been why people are coming in, because they start trust. And because of the Safe Havens we created that give them a safe, intimate space they feel comfortable going into
But over those decades – we didn't do that. We treated people like a problem, not like an individual. So, there wasn’t that human touch. There wasn’t that knowledge. I’m not saying people in this room and all of your work did not manage to create real bonds with people in need. I know you did. I am talking about the whole approach, the whole strategy. The strategy wasn’t human enough. It didn’t focus on developing everywhere we went that human connection. And we would take an individual or family and send them to shelter anywhere with no reference to where they came from or what their lives were about.
Pastor said it – imagine if your from Brooklyn, and you’re told you’re going all the way to the Bronx and that's where you are going to be. You know nothing about that neighborhood. You’ve never been there. You don't know any one. You just know that you don’t feel particularly welcome. As opposed to if your own neighborhood was supporting you as you got back on your feet.
We’ve put people in shelters. We put them in hotels. We put them in cluster apartments – whatever happened to be available because the system was created in crisis in the 1980s and never got out of crisis. And I’m not saying we didn’t experience that same reality in these last three years. I claim full responsibility for everything we did that worked and everything we did that didn’t work. We too felt we were always playing from behind, that the crisis always seemed to be bearing down on us, the numbers always seemed to be growing. And when you’re just trying to get a roof over people’s heads, you take the first roof that’s available. But that isn’t enough. A roof over someone’s head is not part of solving their problem and getting them back on their feet and getting them out of shelter – you need something more. We didn’t think about people as members of a family, as members of a community, as members of a house of worship. We didn’t think about the whole person.
And this is something my wife, Chirlane, talks about a lot – that people have support network. A lot of times it’s their immediate family or their extended family, but it can all sorts of other supports – their house of worship, a community group they’re part of, friends in their neighborhood. People tend to have a group of people who have their back. If you take someone who’s already in crisis as far away as we typically have from their support network, it’s not going to help them make their life better. So, now we are going to change the focus. We’re going to focus on the local. We’re going to focus on the human. We’re going to think about people and their pathway to something better. We’re going to reach out to every part of our society, but we’re going to start with families. We’re going to start with families, because family members, first and foremost, want to see something good for their own. Doesn’t mean every family unified, doesn’t mean there aren't problems, doesn’t mean other members of families don't have their own struggles. But, typically, in families all over the city, there’s a sense of solidarity, and, if they can help, they want to help.
But, guess what? Government hasn’t set up to connect with families. Government has not thought about how can family members be part of the solution, how can they be allies and partners. How can we help the family at the same time as we are helping the homeless individuals? Communities have ended up feeling – and I understand why – that a shelter or any other facility is a problem, because they haven’t, of course, gotten to know people being served, they don't feel connection to them, they don't feel it could be they, themselves, in that same situation. If everyone in New York City thought, that could be me – there but for the grace of God go I – we’d be having a different discussion.
But one thing that the government has done that’s made it harder is we’ve sent people all over and there’s not a sense of the people who are being served are from my very own community – they are just like me – and that’s something we need to change.
We think that will create a better and fairer system. We think that will create more human solidarity. We think it’ll create more chance success in helping people back on their feet.
So, we are going to deepen our response to homelessness. And now, we are going respond to homelessness borough by borough, neighborhood by neighborhood, family by family, person by person.
En Español –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
What does this mean in terms of the big picture? It means we plan on reducing number of people in shelter, again, incrementally, steadily. But this is the honest number we believe we can commit to.
We will reduce the number people in shelter by 2,500 people by the end of the 2021. Is it gloryful goal? Is it everything we want it to be? No. It’s the honest goal. We want to surpass it, and, with your help, we aim to surpass it. But this is what we can tell of people New York City can be done and can be sustained.
A borough-by-borough, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach that will ensure that people are in shelter to begin with in the borough they come from, and, ultimately, as close to the neighborhood they come from as possible – that, that will be the governing philosophy of the homeless shelter system.
To change the relationship with communities, with neighborhoods, we owe communities more communication, better notification, more accountability, more community input. And I’ll describe how we will provide those things, and, I want to be clear again, that doesn’t mean there’s going to be peace and love all the time.
We’ll have an honest conversation with communities, and we’re going to do what we need to do to give people a roof over their heads and keep moving people to a better situation. But we also can listen better to communities, we can notify better, we can work with communities to find better approaches, even if there’s always going to be some resistance to a facility in a neighborhood.
What we intend to do is to reduce radically the overall number of the facilities in this city. Now, that’s going take lot of work, it’s going take long time, it’s going to take creating different facilities to replace them. So, this is not, again, a fun and easy pathway, but the overall impact I believe is profound. We will reduce the number of shelter facilities by 45 percent in this city.
And that is going to be achieved by getting out of all cluster apartments by 2021, and that is a new and revised timeline, which I will describe, and I am going describe why, but it’s the one we believe we can meet. We will end the use of cluster apartments by 2021. We will end the use of commercial hotels by 2023. Are these, again, the most satisfying goals? No. They’re the ones we believe are real. And, as I said, we changed that timeline on clusters by three full years. Why? Because we have to create facilities in neighborhoods all over the city that adjust to where people come from and that's going take lot of work onto itself. And we can't close off that which we have now until we have enough capacity that actually aligns to reality.
Every community in this city has homeless people. We need a shelter system that reflects where people come from and allows people to be sheltered in their own [inaudible] and why we need time to make the pieces come together. I want to be clear, we also looked hard at the original goal – the end of 2018 – for ending the clusters and came to the realization it would lead to intensive new reliance on hotels. Our goal is to not go that path. Our goal is is, of course, to never open a new cluster, only to close them steadily, and our goal is to ideally never go into a new hotel or only sparingly need to. But had we kept to the original goal on clusters, it would have unfortunately lead to an even greater reliance on hotels.
I said earlier it would not be a politically popular plan. I think you can see why. But I refer to the fact that we, as a city, all of us, every kind administration – Democratic, Republican, Independent – we made some of the same mistakes over and over for decades because it never was a borough-based and neighborhood-based shelter system. Three-and-half decades and the problem only got worse. Remember one of the great thinkers of all time, Albert Einstein? He said what was the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We’re not going to do the same thing over and over anymore. It’s time for something different.
And I told you that this problem comes from economics that have cut very hard against working people. And I want to give you these statistics because they are painfully clear. In this city, from 2000 to 2014, average rent increased 19 percent, even after you adjusted for inflation. Average real household income, as result of the Great Recession, declined 6.3 percent. So, there are the economists weighing in. It’s not that even people’s incomes stayed flat. In real terms, they declined in those years and the cost of housing kept going up, and lot of people got caught in that vice.
And right middle of that in 2011, one of the most successful anti-homelessness initiatives that this city had ever undertaken was cancelled. The Advantage program – cancelled by city, cancelled by the state at a time when we needed it most in the years after the Great Recession. And you can see the intensive increase in the number of people in shelter. In the several years after Advantage was canceled, the shelter population went up almost 15,000 people.
Here are the facts, just to give you the historical perspective, because it’s striking. I just want to give it to you in historical perspective of the first month of each of the last three administrations, so you see just how off-base the longterm strategy has been.
The first month of the Giuliani administration – 24,000 people in shelter.
The first month of the Bloomberg administration – 31,000 people in shelter.
The first month of my administration – 51,500 people in shelter – over double the amount of people in shelter in that timeframe.
I said honestly, since we’ve came in, we’ve had to struggle to deal with a constant flow of people coming in, and that got to our worst point just about the time of Thanksgiving last year. We reached the peak population that’s ever been in shelter, 60,709. Today, we just over 60,000 people in shelter. By the end 2021, we will get down 57,500. Then our job is to go further and to keep sustaining the decline. And, again, that's all of our work.
We know that it will be tough, but we also know that some things have begun to work. I mentioned HOME-STAT, but I know if the equation was about incomes have stayed flat or even gone down and then cost of housing that’s constantly gone up when the number-one things we had to do was change the affordability equation. We’re doing that with the affordable housing plan. We’re doing that by even shifting within the affordable housing plan more units to folks at lower incomes – to seniors, to veterans. We’re doing that with our commitment to 15,000 new supportive apartments, of which 550 will be available this year. These are core pieces of making the change – plus the focus I talked about during the State of the City of increasing the number of jobs and increasing the number of good-paying jobs. The affordability crisis obviously underlies so much of the homelessness crisis. We feel that we have at least some of the tools to address that part of the problem.
We know keeping people in their apartments so they don’t slip out of their apartments and into homelessness is crucial. Our prevention efforts, including rental assistance have reached 161,000 households over three years. Some of those folks were going to end up in shelter. Some weren’t, but at least we stabilized their circumstance. We know access to council, being able to avoid eviction because you have a lawyer is a crucial part of the equation.
We increased by 10-fold the amount of resources going to support New Yorkers faced with eviction, harassment, mistreatment by unscrupulous landlords. That investment lead to a 24 percent decrease in evictions. We have now doubled down with a new plan, working with the City Council – and I want to give the City Council great credit for their focus and their strong advocacy. Universal access to council will be in the executive budget, and that’s going to be a game-changer for even more New Yorkers.
When that initiative reaches its peak in 2022, 400,000 people will be served a year. So, it’s going to entirely remake the dynamic of how people facing eviction and displacement are supported, and it’s going to help us keep people in their homes and preserve that affordable housing at the same time.
I mentioned HOME-STAT, and we know that, that person-to-person, highly intensive approach is working. We have to go a lot father, we have to prove it can work for the long haul. We’ve been working very hard to improve shelters because we know some homeless folks don’t go to a shelter because they fear the conditions in the shelter. We have greatly intensified the number of inspections. We have greatly reduced the number of housing violations – a drop of 83 percent since January 2016. And I think most powerfully, and I want to thank Commissioner O’Neill for this – the NYPD has wholeheartedly taken on the role and responsibility for supervising all security in our city shelters, and that’s a game-changer.
And neighborhood policing, separately, now involves a commitment by our Neighborhood Coordinating Officers who work in the communities and in the streets around the shelter to also constantly work on conditions outside of shelters and to address anything that would be disruptive or feel disruptive to neighborhoods.
Finally, I mentioned our focus on clusters. We have now gotten out of 44 cluster buildings altogether, and we’re not going back. Those will no longer be part of how we address homelessness. In the course of this year, we will be out of 40 more cluster buildings and we will continue that effort over these next five years until we are no longer in any cluster buildings.
Now, this title, Turning the Tide, again, it was chosen purposefully. It is not a triumphilis title. It’s not a dire title either. It’s turning the ride – it means we’re turning the situation steadily together. Part of that is coming to a new understanding with neighborhoods. And I mentioned that we haven’t communicated well enough. We haven’t maximize the opportunity to have a sense of partnership because people felt alienated. But we’re going to be resolute that we have to help those in need, get them to a bette place. If we’re going to reduce the number of people on the street and the number of people in shelter, we have to get this right.
And, by the way, as I mentioned in the beginning, people really are distressed, and rightfully so, when they see someone on the street. Every time HOME-STAT succeeds in getting someone off the street, they go to a shelter. So, the victory in the first instance can be getting someone to a shelter and off the street, but that means there’s another person in a shelter bed, and then we have to get that person to something permanent and better. We have to help communities to feel they’re part of that equation. We have to ask communities where – if we’re going to have a shelter that will serve your own neighbors, people from here – where can we best place it? What would be the best location from the community point of view? How can we work together to make it work from the beginning?
So, the big picture – I mentioned some of the numerical goals. The key thing is, if we are going to go to a borough-by-borough, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, at the same time as we reduce overall number of facilities, again, it will take lot of moving parts to get us there. But, in the end, when we complete our goal of getting out of clusters and getting out of hotels, we will have closed 360 shelters sites. So, communities will see something tangible. They’ll see things closing that they have not wanted their community.
To get there – and, again, here is the rub, here’s blunt truth – 90 new shelters will be necessary. We think it’s more than fair trade off to create new and better facilities, cleaner, safer facilities, while getting rid of older ones that were not as good – the clusters – and the facilities that are not fair to homeless folks or taxpayers alike, the hotels. So, we will replace so many of facilities that were closing with 90 new shelters over five years. As I said, the overall footprint, the overall number of buildings that are addressing the homelessness crisis will be reduced by 45 percent.
Right now, 657 buildings are part of the shelter system. We will ultimately be at 364 citywide. We’re also going to go into the existing shelters that have been broken and refurbish them, and we’re going to do a comprehensive effort around the city to bring all shelters to a better standard of quality. That will help us then say to residents, we want you to stay in the shelter facility to the maximum extent possible during the days for education and training initiatives. Right now, too many shelters don’t have a place for someone during that day, or it’s not a proper place. We want people to stay and get help getting on with their future, and that’s also more fair to the community.
One example that you will see immediately in April – in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a new building is being prepared as the first of the 90 new shelters. 132 families will be in this facility in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. But there’s a lot of experts in this room, a lot of people who have watched this for decades – when you visit the facility in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you’re going to see something you never saw before – 132 families, overwhelmingly from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Literally, the preference will be for people who come from that immediate neighborhood and immediately surrounding neighborhoods. In our shelter system right now, there are 120 families from Crown Heights, but some are in Brooklyn, some are in Queens, some are in Manhattan, some are in the Bronx. They’re all being brought home to their home community in Crown Heights.
So, I’ve talked to you about what we’re going to do. Now, we need talk about some help we need from our neighbors to the north in Albany.
And we need everyone this room to help us do it. We have seen great proposal put forward recently by Assemblyman Andy Hevesi – the Home Stability Support plan. It’s rental assistance for more people to stay in their homes and stay out of the shelter. It will reach many more people than our current resources allow, and it makes Albany co-equal in joining us in being account able for this problem. We need Albany at the table. We’re 43 percent of the state’s population. We need Albany to be a part of the solution, and they can be with Assemblyman Hevesi’s bill.
We also know the state did something very good by committing to a large number of supportive housing apartments, and we’re very appreciative, but now we need to see a plan that will actually deliver these apartments. And here’s a chance to do it with upcoming budget in Albany. We want to see a plan for opening units this year, next year, and years after, so we can speed people on way to a better life. That's what Albany needs to do to help us. We’re doing our fair share. You are going see in this plan. We’re putting lot of resource in to get it right, to make the big change to break the cycle of the past. Albany needs to be our partner.
And I mentioned families, and I think another one missing links because, again, don't believe families were treated coherently, humanly, or strategically as partners. There wasn’t a plan for actually reaching out to family members and saying let’s work together to solve a problem. Remember, your family who’s homeless, who increasingly is someone who just came upon hard times economically and needs help.
We have to empower families to be a part of the solution. We have talk to them, first of all. We have try and find common ground. We have to ask them what will help them help their family member. We have to be ready to provide support.
We have to be ready to put our money where our mouth is if we are going to solve the problem with help of families. That's what the pathway home approach is all about. We started it, as some of you know back during the holidays. We saw some real interest – we need deepen it. It’s a simple concept. A family is willing take in a member who’s homeless, or even a whole family related to them as homeless. We’re going to go the extra mile to support that family. We’re going to help them their rent. We’re going to help them make ends meet. We’re going to make it a good equation for that family – and it makes so much sense. Because especially if we’re talking about children – lord knows we’d rather have children in a family setting than in a shelter. We’d rather family members with their loved ones feeling warmth and support as they get back on their feet. Why should we provide financial support to make that happen? It makes all of the sense in world by the way, there any at that?
By the way, if there’s any taxpayers in the room –
It’s a hell of a lot less expensive than a family being in shelter. So, it’s humane. It’s much more intelligent strategically in terms of actually helping someone get their life better, and it costs lot less too. That's the family part of the equation.
I’ve mentioned the community part of the equation. We’re going to have a different kind of conversation. It won’t alway be an easy conversation, but we’re going to have a different conversation with community boards, with community civic organizations. And, I want to be clear, we’ve looked at the exact numbers – every community board has people in our shelter system who come from it. Some have a very small number. Some very large number. We’re going to change our shelter system to reflect the needs of each community board. We’re going to ask each community board to do their fair share. For some, it may mean very small facility. If community board has 50 people in shelter system, we want home have some kind of capacity like that. If they have thousands, we want them to have capacity for the people from their neighborhood, even if it means enough capacity for thousands of people. We want people to be close to home. But we want everyone to do their fair share – every community board needs to be part of the solution.
And we will – whenever we site a shelter, we will set up a community advisory board, and the idea will be to work in common for a better outcome. We know a lot of people are going to say, wait, we don’t want anything like that in our neighborhood. Well, guess what? Everyone needs to take on their fair share, but we can make it work better if we work together. We can figure out what will make it succeed and what will make it not a negative for the community, but, in some times, even a positive for the community, especially because people will know the folks inside those doors come from right around their own streets, their own neighborhood, their own block.
When we create a new shelter facility, we will provide 30 days notice, or more. That is going to be a strict rule. We’ve actually already been applying that rule in recent months. That will be a consistent rule. And we understand why that’s been a point of contention – communities deserve to know they will get notification. That does not mean, if there’s protest we will change our minds. It means we want people to come to the table with us, offer their concerns, if they have an alternative location, we’ll look at that too. If they have better ways we can do the work, we’re listening. but they deserve notification.
Now, there’s also the question of hotels, and I mentioned we have plan to get out of hotels altogether. But we came to the conclusion that if we were going to do that we had to juxtapose it against our plan to get out of clusters. Getting out of clusters in the higher priority. So, getting out of clusters will require us to use hotels longer, and sometimes it may require us to even go into new hotels – that's not our goal. If we could never go into another new hotel, that would be ideal. But we are going honest with people that sometimes it any be necessary. Some times the numbers homeless folks might spike up, particularly in certain weather or certain times of the year. Sometimes, as we’re closing clusters, there’ll be addition pressure on the system. Sometime if HOME-STAT’s working really well, more and more people will be coming in off the streets. The goal is to not go into a single new hotel, but sometimes we may have to. In those instances, those will be game-time decisions, because that’s the last resort. A lot of times, literally a decision has to made that same day. We’re going to provide in real-time notification to community leaders. The minute we decide to go into a new hotel, we will give them an immediate alert. But I’m also being very honest with people, that will typically be the same day we go in, because that's how decisions will have to be made.
We are always going to ask community people to help us think together. Any time we identify a site, if community leaders say we have a better site for you in this community board, I would like them to prove themselves right and prove us wrong. I’d like them to show us that better site, and, if it will work, we will be happy to use it. But I want people to start from constructive places of figuring out we get something done again, again, knowing it will be serving members of your own community, your own neighborhood.
Okay. I’ve laid it out to you. You have your bedtime reading. I will finish with this. If you are homeless – you, yourself, an individual, or with a family – it becomes a very lonely existence, because, again, today you are cut off from everything that you knew. You’re shunted about. You don't know where it’s going to end. You don't know the people you are dealing with most days. You feel alone not for bad reasons. That sense of loneliness is not going help us turn people's lives around – think about it – again, not because people weren't trying to best, oftentimes because it was crisis, after crisis, after crisis we created a system that actually didn't help people feel good about themselves or feel hope they could get to better place.
I mentioned wonderful folks I met with earlier. They struggled against those realities. They found good people, like those in this room, who lifted them up. They found a way. It wasn’t easy. And there’s a whole lot of other people who are left discouraged, like Pastor said. That story Pastor offered in the beginning was incredibly painful – the keycard didn’t work and the guy felt he didn't belong anymore. Well, there’s a lot people that feel they don't belong. That means, as people are kept disconnected from where they came from – from their family, from their house of worship, from their whole support network, we were actually adding a barrier to the process, taking a bad situation and inadvertently making it worse, which is why we need a radical change of approach and a difficult one, but one that will take us to place where a person feels they are a human being that’s being treated like human who’s on their way back to a better situation.
And we learned that the hard way, because he we didn't get it either in this administration too often. We didn't see that we needed much more radicle change. Now, we get that we have to emphasize the role of family. We get we emphasize role of neighborhood. We get that we have to reach out to our faith leaders and faith communities in a much deeper way, to community organizations in a much deeper way. A lot of times, they will show us the answer that isn’t evident to government, but we know they hold some keys solution. And we know, for years, a lot of community organizations and house worship have been trying to get government’s attention, trying get their support. We are going deepen those efforts because we know it is part of the longterm charge.
We know this is something that literally could happen to almost anyone. Homelessness is something that has happened to people you would not believe could fall that homelessness. And we’ve got to have that in our hearts when we think about this problem. That doesn’t negate any of the challenges I’ve talked about. It doesn’t say that we should not push this government to do better, but we need to humanly remember that one paycheck away so many people are – one bad break away.
I want to just end with something that’s a story I found very affecting. And it was actually written – it was a column written by Cardinal Dolan, who, as Pastor knows, like Pastor Bernard, one of the great faith leaders of this city. And he has spoken about homelessness not just from the perspective of his faith, or his ministry, or from the perspective of Catholic Charities. He wrote, I thought, a downright confessional column in which he talked about his own pathway, trying to understand the issue. His own coming to the realization that he had to understand better people who had suffered. This was back in 2015, and I want to just read you two vignettes from it.
He said, not long ago, a young, homeless married couple stopped me after mass in the cathedral. Yes, I’m afraid they fit the stereotype, unclean, smelly, agitated and irrational. They were in distress, yet, reluctant to accept the remedies I tried to offer. I did what I could, but was still bothered when they left, again, for the streets. A week or so later, I got a frantic letter form the out-of-town parents of the young man. In one of his rare phone calls to them, he had apparently told them he had visited me. The folks let me know of their relief that they had been living in agony for months wondering where their son was – a son who had had a sad history of emotional problems. They wondered if he was even still alive and they begged me to persuade him to come home. That young homeless couple was someone’s son and daughter.
And then, he says further, I confess at times that I’m at my wits end wondering how to help, not only all the homeless here in town, but the individual ones who bother me or cause me to turn my head away from them on my walk to work. So, it’s good that the plight of those without food and shelter has been conversation around our own kitchen tables. How we helped them can give rise to good debates. That we should reach out should not be debatable.
So, we will reach out. We will not abandon people. We will not abandon each other. This is big city, a tough city, but city with a big heart – a city of compassion – a city of strong families, and strong neighborhoods, and strong values. And it’s a city of people who look out for each other – and that admired all over the world.
Now, we all have job to do. Thank you. God bless you all.