November 14, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. I just had the great pleasure of talking to one of our street outreach teams for this part of Manhattan and it was truly – I am telling you from the heart – it was truly inspiring. The four women that Raul and I met with just epitomize public service and devotion to helping others. These are folks I asked each of them about their background and why they chose this work. And I hope some of you got to hear because it was inspiring to hear these really talented women who want to be out there engaging folks who have fallen on hard times, engaging folks who have a substance misuse problem, engaging folks that have a mental health problem, and helping them come in off the streets. This is the life they have chosen to help these people and it's really inspiring. Clearly this is a kind of a classic thing to say but I think it's true, these are all folks who could've chosen more comfortable jobs and probably jobs that paid more, but they wanted to be at the front line and the streets in New York City helping to address homelessness, helping to get people off the streets.
And one of the things I heard from the four women I met with was how much persistence it takes. That a lot of folks who are on the streets, let's face it, if you end up on the streets long-term, something went really wrong in your life and something disconnected and it doesn't get put back together again instantly. And they all talked about persistence and having to really engage each person at literally as many times as it takes to the point where they're willing to come in off the streets. And it's just really admirable. So today is about this approach and the fact that we're going to make this approach bigger and stronger so we can address street homelessness on a much bigger level in a way that's bolder than ever before for the city. And we've got a lot to do and it's really, really tough work. But today we're going to talk about the next steps we're taking to address this challenge.
I want to emphasize that phrase “there but for the grace of God, go I.” I've talked to a lot of folks who are homeless over the years. I want people to understand and remember their humanity. Folks who have a mental health challenge – remember that is one in five Americans - some of them and never gets treated and they end up on the street. Folks who have a substance misuse problem, almost every family has been touched by that challenge. For some people it causes their life to fall apart. They end up on the street. We have to understand how human this problem is. We all have heard stories and probably even met people who it might shock you a how together their lives were. Some of them had very professional, well-paying jobs and still something disconnected. So we have to remember not to be too judgmental, and ironically, painfully could happen to almost anyone. But the job is to not give up on people, to remember that that same person who spiraled downward to the streets can be helped upward to a better life. But it takes a lot of hard work.
So we believe that this kind of outreach effort is the key. We believe that constantly engaging folks is the answer. And I want everyone understand, I'm not talking about a few times and not talking about a few dozen times. Sometimes we were talking about hundreds of times before it works. But it is worth it because every time, and we heard from the outreach workers today, the sense of victory they felt when someone did come in and they were talking about literally in the last days getting someone in off the streets, who had been on the streets for years and years. What a profound victory that is.
And so today we're going to talk about the next big step in this effort, Outreach NYC, this consistent, vast effort to address homelessness comprehensively and get people off the streets once and for all. I want to thank the leaders of so many agencies who are here and all the folks who work for our agencies behind me. They all epitomize the same spirit that we all want to solve this problem together. But I think we should be honest that for many, many years, the issue of homelessness was considered just to be a social service problem. In fact, we think that a lot of different city agencies can come together to contribute to change. And it's something we've been working on for a while now. And we finally think we've gotten it right to prepare and train folks who work in communities all over this city to be a part of the solution, folks who work for a variety of city agencies to all see this as a common mission, a common cause.
So I want to thank the leaders of the agencies present here today. Of course, our Commissioner for Social Services Steve Banks, our Administrator for Homeless Services Joslyn Carter, our Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, our CEO of Health and Hospitals Dr. Mitch Katz, Commissioner at ACS David Hansell, Commissioner for Aging Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, our Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson, Administrator for Human Resources Administration Grace Bonilla, Chief of Staff for the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Peter Hatch. And I want to thank Peter who has been playing a central role in building this multi-agency effort. Want to also thank our hosts here in the community, Executive Director of the 14th Street Y Jordan Brackett, and the District Manager Community Board Three Susan Stetzer. Thank you all for everything you do and thank you for joining together with us in this effort.
I'll be quick and getting to the point, but just one thing I've got to frame it with, these problems, these challenges come from what's broken in our society. We do not have a healthcare system that works in this country. And as we've talked about a lot, we don't even have the beginnings of a mental health care system in this country. So, homelessness, modern homelessness now pushing almost 40-years-old in terms of this city's experience, it is directly related to the fact that this nation doesn't provide health care the right way and doesn't even begin to provide mental health care to its people. We also have an economy that is not built for working people and we are working every day to try and change that at the city level. But so many of the mistakes, again, and the problems are on the federal level, it isn't shocking that a lot of folks end up homeless, not so much street homeless, but in shelter. Most people in shelter today - are the number one category of people in shelter today are economically homeless because it's an economy that does not work for working people in too many cases.
So we're dealing with big challenges and failed approaches and missed opportunities going back decades and bluntly under all administrations, doesn't matter if you're talking about Democrats, independents, Republicans, there's an equal opportunity problem. What we're trying to do in this city with the resources we have is breakthrough by addressing this issue with the tools we have. We know we don't have everything we wish we had, but we do have the power of all these agencies and all the good people who work for them. And we know we have a strategy that has worked that when it started out, and I remember we announced it a few years ago here in this community, HOME-STAT was an idea at that point, could we get people in off the street and keep them in off the street? We thought we could. We weren't sure. Today that we have evidence over the last few years, 2,200 people who were street homeless have come in off the street and not gone back, 2,200. Again, anybody on the street is an unacceptable reality. But when you think of that number compared to the total problem we face, it's extraordinary. So we've actually found a strategy that works, but now we have to go farther.
So today we're going to take that successful approach and build on it and three things we're announcing that will make a big difference. First, all the departments of this city that have that frontline connection to communities will be brought into this effort. That has not been done before. So you see behind me, representatives, all these agencies, these are folks who know the communities they serve, they have on the ground everyday opportunities to see what's going on.
But previously they were not charged systematically with being part of the problem - or part of addressing the problem of homelessness. This is going to change that. These some of the folks who best know communities and are going to be able to give us the information to act quickly. So bringing every department that connects with communities into this mission, and that's going to be a crucial, crucial part of the work of our new Deputy Mayor, who you'll hear from in a moment, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, who comes to this work with many impressive credentials. But one of the most impressive is he was one of the architects of the successful effort by the Obama administration to end chronic veterans homelessness in America. So this is a situation where we brought into play someone who has had to think about and act on this issue all over this country in the toughest situations, on dealing with folks who have been homeless for a long, long time and finding real solutions. We're bringing a leader into this effort who has been at the front line and has proven that he can get things done and make big changes.
Second, the sheer number of people who are going to be involved, 18,000 city employees will be engaged in this effort. So literally 18,000 more eyes and ears throughout the city, able to give us in real time information about what's happening and where we need to go to get homeless folks help and get them off the street. All those folks will be prepared and empowered to do that work. And then third, we're going to have a central hub. You can liken it to a war room or you could liken it to an air traffic control tower. One place where all the information will be collected for wherever there is someone on the street and the whole city, at any given moment. Every report we have and a team of experts coordinating the response to each. I use the air traffic control example because when a controller's looking at planes coming in and out, every one of those planes represents human lives and they can't take their eye off the ball and they can't just forget there's a plane out there. Well, it's the same with folks on the street. This is now a comprehensive approach that will allow us to literally see at any given moment, every report of someone on the street at that hour and make sure that there is a response team engaging that person. So it's going to be real time and we're going to be able to, in the next few weeks bring you into that war room, show you what's happening, to show you a very new approach to the problem.
So I turn now to our new Deputy Mayor and he has extraordinary experience by training, a medical doctor. He has worked on the whole range of issues that this Deputy Mayor role addresses. We did a national search and we look for someone with extraordinary breadth of experience, a passionate approach to the work, a real understanding of how to get things done. And when you look at that national effort that President Obama embarked on, realizing it was a very bold and ambitious effort because chronic veteran homelessness had been with us for decades. Raul was one of the people President Obama turned to, to build that effort and to see it through and we now will have the benefit of that knowledge and that experience here in this city. He, I'm proud to say, got his start here in New York City at our own Health and Hospitals Corporation and started out his career here. He’s worked across a range of issues, not just homelessness issues and veterans issues, obviously healthcare issues, mental health issues. He's focused a lot on the needs of communities of color. He's focused a lot on the needs of the LGBT community. Raul brings the whole package to this work.
And for him it is personal and I came to know him in many discussions and talked to a lot of people about him. It became clear at what a clear labor of love this work is for him. He is his own version of the American dream for sure, immigrant from Mexico who served the first African American president and helped veterans of every background, in every state, to come off the streets and get housing and a new life. This is a great example, a great reminder of what people who come to this country bringing their talents and their passion can do for all of us. And our veterans are so much better off because of Raul's service.
But going back to his origins in the city when he was at Health and Hospitals and when he was at our Department - then Department of Mental Health it was not an easy time. For all you remember the late eighties, early nineties, it was an extraordinarily tough time. One of the things Raul worked on centrally was HIV/AIDS crisis, then at a horrible point where bluntly government across the board was not reckoning with the extent of the crisis. Raul was one of the people in government who was doing everything possible to address the crisis, who was engaging the community and trying to get people help who were being ignored. So his skills were forged in fire, one of the toughest public service missions at that time, and he has brought that passion forward for all of us today in New York City. Just going to say a few words in Spanish before I introduce him -
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, welcome to the team, and I welcome back to New York City, our new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, Health and Human Service: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I'm reminded how short I am, next time I will bring a cushion.
A part from the greatest thanks to you for bringing me back home because this is home for me. I have to acknowledge that no one is its own island. I stand on the shoulders of many people and I want to go through quick thanks to all of them. First and foremost, my family represented here by my mother, muchas gracias mama.
Mayor: Well done.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: At 82, she continues to see patients as a psychologist, so –
Mayor: Very good.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: You can well believe that I have it in the blood to – retiring is not really an issue for me.
Mayor: You can keep this job until you’re 82.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: [Inaudible] If I take that long to actually get it done, then I'm in trouble.
Mayor: Yeah, you have a problem.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: But I receive a lot of support and love from my family, which really is crucial to any child. You know, giving them the ability to believe in themselves and not so much doing things for them, but letting them know that they can do that on their own. Then, of course, New York for me was my first position, but also here I met great mentors. Dr. Jim Thompson who was so many things across three or four administrations, and Dr. Billy Jones, who's here with us – the first openly gay Commissioner in the City of New York –
Who gave me the opportunity to be his chief of staff. I was, you know, this crazy kid at 28 running around, probably sticking my nose in the wrong places, but he had the patience to teach me what to do and what not to do.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: And I think again, their support, and others, taught me how New York was really an entire school for me. I always felt free here, but I always felt the energy that propelled me to want to know more and do more.
Then I was lucky enough to really begin and continue to grow a great set of friends. The Mayor call me an architect of the veteran homeless plan. But we have here my great friend Scott Gould, who was the Former Deputy Secretary of VA, who was a much bigger architect. The biggest lesson that we learned then was what our former boss used to say, why homelessness became such a central issue for the Obama administration was because it was where we had failed the veterans every time – benefits, health care, mental health services, housing, everything.
It was our worst shame that we really failed them. They gave us so many opportunities to help them and we failed. I think what the Mayor has been doing and this administration – he kept asking me, what else can we be doing? You know, you've done this at a national level, what else have you been – can we be doing? I think the Mayor and this administration are following the path of success that we saw when we were dealing with this issue at a national basis.
I examined several homeless plans for different major cities in the country. New York is at the forefront. No one else, to my knowledge, has the law that says we have the right to shelter here. But as the Mayor was saying, the team this morning was so enlightening and so inspirational because you could see the twinkle in their eyes when they were talking about why they got into the field and how important it is to be patient and go and try to engage a person at a time – many times. There was one lady that said, this person, we've been trying to engage this person for years. That's how long it may take to gain their trust because for some reason, as the Mayor was saying, they probably failed at something, made them lose trust in our society.
We learned something else at the VA that it’s not one person's problem. This is not the Mayor's problem or the administration's problem. This is everyone's issue. Just as we learned that all agencies at VA had to work together across their stove pipes, I think that the Mayor has really led the charge and he's saying it again today, we need all agencies to work together because frankly we have to turn the system on its head. As we said when we were at the VA, it’s veteran-centric, it's – we're asking a fragile person to come in and navigate a very complex set of systems and we should be doing it the other way around because otherwise we actually do lose them to treatment.
After I left VA, jointly with Scott, we continued to try to help veterans with substance use disorder problems and we continue to have the same mantra. These people are fragile, in many cases homeless, and if you keep asking them to go get the services and the appointments, they're not going to do it. So, we need to have veteran-centric, patient-centric services in order for all of this to work. Otherwise we're wasting a lot of resources and time.
I kept hearing the team telling me you need to rebuild your connection to New York. And I kept scratching my head thinking I never left. I got here when I was 25. I know he started as a junior planner analyst, very long title – I always believe the longer the title, the more junior the responsibilities – but at Health + Hospitals Corporations and that allow me to learn every single subway route, visit every single one of those facilities from the biggest hospitals – Bellevue, Metropolitan to [inaudible] in Seaview to Coney Island and some – Morrisania and [inaudible].
So, what a great gift for me at that young age to actually get to know the richness of the city – the languages, the dialects, the strengths, and amazing differences that make this city so vibrant. And so I – when I left and went to Washington, I was thinking about this, I still figured out a way to come back every month to get my haircut. Don't –
Don't ask me. First he was Astor Place and then when Astor Place disappeared, there was Sixth Street –
Mayor: No, it’s still there. It changed, but it's still there.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Well, my guy moved two blocks [inaudible].
Mayor: Your guy disappeared. This is very personal.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: It is. My dentist is still here, my eye doctor. But also there were projects that kept bringing me back. When I was here working for the City, I also managed to volunteer for a lot of organizations – GMHC. That was where I met David Hansell. He and I benefited from a group of people who taught us how to build partnerships. The HIV Planning Council in those days was a model of work in which you can bring the City government agencies with the not-for-profit agencies, with foundations. Everybody has a stake, and I will repeat this again with the homelessness issue or New York City Care expansion – everybody has a role to play. This is our community, we’re all part of it. We may not all agree on every single little detail about how to improve the life in the city, but we all have a responsibility to play. So, life certainly has changed in those 30 years.
It's so much easier, to – I still cannot believe it, in our lifetimes, the first African American president. And I come back and I can say I'm the gay Latino that can be next to the Mayor. And I told him this before – for once, this is not a minority. I'm not in any advantage because I'm unique. And some of you may actually relate to this, and some of you could never really believe how much it means that everybody is valued for their contributions and who they are and it's not so much sideline for issues that are part of their DNA and they can’t really change.
So, as the Mayor said, I've devoted my life to helping others. And, you know, going through medical school is probably a pretty indication – patients first, communities. My degree’s in public health. So coming here to work with the public hospitals was a natural, coming here when I wanted to do global health, it was completely the only place on Earth that I could actually realize that because here you do international health, you realize that you have to learn about epidemics that happen that have their origins in Africa or Southeast Asia, and they all come here.
So the person who sits as the department of you know – the Commissioner of Health, it's sitting on a global organization. It is not the World Health Organization but it is the world health organization. So, I am looking forward to actually doing more of that work because of my background. Let me – I think I told you all the pieces about what makes me myself. Let me touch on the actual work of the agencies that are going to be part of this portfolio.
Homelessness – front and center. I think I spoke enough about it. I'm here to accelerate the progress. The Mayor is going to hold me accountable. All New Yorkers are going to hold me accountable for expediting the progress on making sure that there is no homeless on the street. There's so many things put in place, transitional housing, permanent housing, mental health services. Thrive is something that I have not seen in other cities. The most comprehensive sweeping mental health program, touching all government agencies that may be seeing people with mental health conditions. And so I'm here to accelerate and put all my work and experience behind those efforts.
Same goes for seniors. I think they're not the squeaky wheel, but I think the Mayor actually told me there is a lot more opportunity for us to really highlight what the administration is doing on seniors but also do more, and Lorraine will become a natural partner for me since I'm going to be a senior someday, I hope and pretty soon. I will take this as a personal issue. My work with David will continue now in a new iteration with the children of our city. I'm very much looking forward to that. I think that there's so much goodness there. There is so much that has changed thanks to the Mayor and David and others in that administration that I'm really looking forward to expanding on that.
There are other vulnerable populations that I will be watching for and then there is at the end – I'm a data wonk, you know. Scott can tell you. So, I will be looking for evidence-based driven solutions in everything we do. It is not enough to just go and start doing things. We have to make sure that there is signs behind it and that we know how to expand and multiply the best practices. We constantly run into those issues at VA and even when I was working at the Commerce Department, you know, how do you take something wonderful and then really make sure that others adopted and buy into it? Sometimes the not-invented-here syndrome is the most pernicious way of why great ideas don’t really blossomed.
Let me just close with a very personal anecdote so you understand that not only this is home, that I'm fully committed to the work that we're going to do. I lost my first partner, Peter, in 1996 to AIDS and cancer. Pam Brier, who was then the Executive Director of Bellevue Hospital, dedicated the Dave Room in the inpatient unit in his honor. There was a portrait there that hung in the room he was until he died. The director of the AIDS program at Bellevue Hospital – the largest AIDS program of its kind in those days. Ten years later, 2006, I came back and I was working at Pfizer and they generously decided to give a grant to Bellevue to rededicate that room to honor Peter.
Linda Curtis, who was then the executive director, said, we are more than happy and I do remember Peter, but the epidemic has moved. We no longer have a Dave Room and the inpatient unit, how about if we dedicate the waiting room in the outpatient clinic? And I said, absolutely –
Mayor: Even better .
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Because that means that we've done something for the epidemic. So now, a couple of days ago, you know, I asked Peter, my chief of staff to be, could you find out if that portrait is still there? And Peter told me, well, they [inaudible]. And I thought it was the best destiny for that portrait. Because right now the AIDS crisis is almost something that we can consider a success story, it’s a curable chronic condition that is not killing the way it was when I lost my partner and so many other friends and I want for the new epidemics – homelessness, substance use, obesity, suicide – I want 20 years from now, Mr. Mayor, to be thinking back and seeing that we conquered them the same way that we did with HIV.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: And there was history that I think came to be because everyone was involved. It was not the administration's problem. It was every New Yorker involved. So my message here is, I'm here, I'll roll up my sleeves, and I hope that everybody really contributes, wants to be part of this effort.
The second thing I have to share with you is, I lost my second partner to mental illness – very severe bipolar disorder – very well-thought of anesthesiologist who was a researcher at Pfizer. And so you can well believe that it’s always been personal. HIV, mental health, it's all personal to me. You will see me hopefully more on the streets and less with a suit, really looking at shelters and H+H facilities. I'm still getting used to the no Corporation. But the realities like the team today, the work is on the streets.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: So, thank you, and I hope I get to settle down before you hold me accountable for what I don't know. And thank you again, Mr. Mayor for this great [inaudible] –
Mayor: Welcome aboard, brother.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Thank you.
Mayor: Excellent, well done.
Mayor: We are going to take questions on today’s announcement and then questions on other topics, but I want to welcome a representative of this community who has done a lot to promote affordable housing and the real solutions to the challenges we are talking about today. Welcome Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, where are you Assembly member? Oh, he just stepped out. Okay. I gave him a great lead up and he’s gone. Alright, let him know I said nice things about him behind his back okay. Alright, questions on this announcement today.
Question: [Inaudible] ask about [inaudible] what’s the current state of affairs as far as identifying where homeless people are and how is this going to expand that effort? Was it mostly centralized in Manhattan and now it’s expanding? Or what’s going to be new –
Mayor: I appreciate the question. I’ll start and Steve will jump in, for sure. The problem is first and foremost Manhattan, for sure. This is something that I think as we deepen the strategies, it’s also important to provide information to New Yorkers so they get a picture on this. We certainly see some hot spots in the other four boroughs but nothing compares to the situation in Manhattan. And that situation in Manhattan is overwhelmingly below 96th Street. I will give you an example from just this week. I had a town hall meeting last night in Council member Adrian Adams’s district in Southeast Queens. In the preparation for that meeting, discussing it with the Department of Social Services and Homeless Services, I asked how many homeless hot spots in that entire Council district in Southeast Queens. There were two and each of them had homeless person associated with them. That is just one example. But I want people to understand that as much as this is a painful problem and a tough, tough problem, it is not a challenge in the sense of some of the other things we do in the city where we are talking about equal challenges in every nook and cranny in New York City and every block – no. This is a much more concentrated problem and that is part of why taking a war room approach or an air traffic control approach can actually allow us to get our hands around the overwhelming majority of the cases. So that’s about the geography. In terms of the folks who will be out there – look I think previously we have depended on New Yorkers to call in their concerns, we depend on elected officials, community organizations, homeless outreach workers, obviously, police officers but as we pull together a variety of agencies to talk about all the contributing factors, all the different pieces. And again I want to thank Peter Hatch who has been leading that effort. It started becoming evident that there was a lot of information we could get at our finger tips if we just empowered these front line workers and trained them in how to make the right report quickly and allow us to get help to where it was needed right away.
Do you want to add?
Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Social Services: I would just add that for us and Social Services it’s a real force multiplier, if you will. There are two important functions that are the reality of doing this work. Which is more eyes and ears help, particularly to redeploy outreach staff to deal with emergency situations, they can’t be everywhere. They may be addressing a client situation in one place and there’s an emergency somewhere else. So having more eyes an dears will help us meet peoples’ needs more quickly. But at the same time, we may well have addressed a situation on a particular block in a particular area and somebody’s eyes and ears will tell us that there is another person there. And so this will really enable us to really increase and deepen the work that we have done that’s enable 2,200 human beings to come off the streets. And that’s really what this is all about. It’s about giving help to human beings.
Mayor: Hold on, we’ll get you. Go ahead, Gloria.
Question: I want to ask if the City has done anything specifically to look at what went wrong following the deaths of four men in Chinatown last month?
Mayor: Just to answer quickly, we announced a 30-day review which is just being completed and to look at not just that tragedy but the bigger systemic question. And we are going to have a lot more to say on that in the next week or two.
Question: Okay, if I might follow up, I just wondered – you are talking about eyes and ears, some of the problems that you have – that the advocates and people who are homeless talk about is that homelessness by its very nature can be very transient and people are moving around. My colleague Courtney Gross profiled the lives of the men who were killed last month. But she was actually able to track them down, figure out where they hung out, figure out who their friends were on the street. Why hasn’t the City been able to do the same thing and address the core issues that some of them had? You know some of them had addiction problems, some of them even had homes that they could have gone too but choose not to go to because they – or the shelters they didn’t want to stay in. So, you are adding eyes and ears but where have those eyes and ears been so far?
Mayor: Okay. I am going to unpack that a little bit and, Steve, you jump in. Look, I think to my colleagues from City Hall, if we had not created an opportunity for members of the media to talk to the outreach team that we met with today, we should or other folks who do that work. I think it would be really illustrating of the challenge for you to hear, because we had some of these conversations this morning. How many engagements it takes and the complexity and literally to the point of sometimes it will take hundreds of conversations to get to that point of trust and that sort of break through moment. But it’s worth it – it’s worth it. And other times, it goes a lot faster, thank God. But I don’t want to belittle the challenge. It’s not generally can we find a person, it’s can we – people move around, you know you have to find them enough times, you have to win their trust, you have to understand their problem and then present them with a solution that they actually want to buy into. So I think we now can say with some assurance, we understand the basic pattern. Very sadly, it takes an immense of repetition to be able to pull off the mission sometimes. It’s not a problem of generally speaking locating someone or having a dialogue, it’s just how much dialogue it takes.
Commissioner Banks: And I would add to that, the tragedy of those four lives that Courtney – really, I think was a very penetrating story – illustrates the challenges that our outreach workers have, which is that many people on the streets are very transient. We may only see them once or twice and then not see them again because like those individuals who lost their lives, they have family and friends that may take them in or they have other things that may work out for them. And so we are focused both on people who are transient like that to see if there is some connection we can make to help them. But also the people who are not transient that we are working on very persistently as the Mayor said, to make that connection. Remember, people end up on the streets after they have fallen through every social safety net that exists. They have had experiences with government and other organizations which has made them very distrustful. And so the key work that our outreach workers do is rebuilding that trust. Having additional eyes and ears help us deploy our resources where we might not have seen somebody or where we might not have realized that someone has reappeared at a particular location. It’ s – if we’ve learned anything since we have begun these reforms in the way that New York City addresses homelessness, really just three years ago. And, as the Mayor, said this is a four-decade problem. I think many of you know, I’ve been, I represented homeless people in the streets and in the shelters years and years ago at the beginning of this. And we really, and I think as Raul said, adopted a plan that is almost unique to the United States, to finally tackle the structural issues. But the human issues are what drives this. And that’s where the persistence of the outreach workers is a part of it, the eyes and ears of the City workers are a part of it. But as I’ve said if we’ve learned anything it’s that it is not a one size fits all solution. We’ve got prevention, evictions are down in New York City, they are up across the country. Evictions are down about a third in New York City, across the country that’s not the case. That’s part of stemming the tide. Supportive housing is coming online. 120,000 people relocated out of shelter to permanent housing. You can see the outlines of progress. But every day we know we have much more to do. And all you had to do was speak to those outreach workers that are out there 24/7, knowing the urgency of the work.
Mayor: Amen. Go ahead, Marcia
Question: Mr. Mayor, a number of homeless advocates say that this is a program that doesn’t address the root cause of homelessness. It doesn’t create affordable housing for the homeless. And that it could end up just shuffling people around and adding to more criminalization. I wonder if you could address their concerns?
Mayor: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s a profound misunderstanding of what’s happening. Again, let’s totally separate the current reality of folks of in shelter from the 3,500 or so folks who are the streets right now. Look, one person on the streets is one person too many. But the 3,500 in the largest city in America pales in comparison to what we are seeing very, very tragically in the west coast cities where it’s not thousands, it’s tens of thousands on the streets. The fact is folks in shelter more and more are dealing with economic challenges. Families much more, I remember Marcia when you and I worked together some, when I was Chair of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council, it wasn’t that long ago, it was not families, working families, were not the predominant population in shelter. They are today. That’s absolutely a result of the Great Recession and the rising cost of housing. So on that root cause issue, anyone who says if we are going to stop that don’t we need more affordable housing and better jobs, better wages, that’s absolutely right and that’s what we are trying to do. But if you talk about street homeless, that is overwhelmingly mental health challenges, substance misuse challenges or both. That is not about economics first and foremost. So, the fact is and I give Steven and Joslyn and everyone at Social Services and Homeless Services credit, they have set up this, you know huge network of Safe Havens and all of these new options to get people off the streets and this extraordinary outreach effort.
The problem here is not we don’t have a place to get someone that’s safe and where we can get them mental health services and substance misuse services, we have that. It’s getting people to come in. Now if you said, could all of this be adverted if we had a society that addressed mental health comprehensively, health care comprehensively, substance misuse comprehensively? I think there is a really strong argument if we had a truly national health care plan that covered everything, we would be in a whole different situation. But I do think the point is really important, the difference between shelter and street in analyzing the problem.
Question: [Inaudible] the difficulty in getting people to come in. I looked at some numbers and just Tuesday, your outreach people had contact with 313 people and only 13 agreed to come in.
Question: [Inaudible] you or Steve talk about the difficulty in convincing people that the street isn’t the place they should be.
Mayor: I am going to turn to Steve but just saying again, I welcome everyone spend some time with our outreach workers, hear what kind of conversations they have to have to win the trust of folks who are often very distrustful, and have been through a lot and have been through a lot of trauma and how hard it is to win them over. 13 in a day is actually a really good day when you are dealing folks with this level of problems.
Commissioner Banks: I would add, Marcia, that we look at the fight to bring people in on two levels. There’s the daily effort and you are seeing those numbers and as the Mayor said, that’s 13 human beings who came inside out of a larger number of human beings who are very distrustful of government and every other agency that exists because they have had bad experiences. So rebuilding that trust is what takes the daily persistence. But there’s the longer term fight as well. And that’s what’s producing the results or more than 2,200 human beings who have come in and remained off the streets. So, our real metric that we focus on is helping people who come in who remain off the streets. But we know the pathway to that is every day, bringing somebody in, if only even for a day, it’s progress for that individual’s pathway to get off the street. And that’s how we look at it. It’s a daily struggle and it’s a longer term fight.
Question: Will the program help you to bridge the distrust and get people to come in?
Mayor: I am going to tell you from a common sense point of view why. It’s a great question. Because it is about how many reps, it is about how many times you engage someone. And again I was – just heard four wonderful human beings describe their daily life, and why they have to keep connecting to someone. And in one of the conversations, we were talking about what it was going to take and they said that they engaged this homeless woman, multiple, multiple times and felt like they weren’t necessarily getting anywhere, but she said at one point she was having a conversation with the homeless woman and the homeless woman started talking about coming in. So the seed had been planted over dozens of conversations but it was starting to become the homeless woman’s idea that maybe there’s a better place. So yeah, this is really tough complex work but I do want to say to you that, sheer persistence really is the difference maker. That’s what they said this morning. These are the frontline workers, these are you know, young women who have devoted their whole life to this work. And they said this is about engaging and never stopping. I think in the past what happened was, we didn’t have anywhere near this number of outreach workers, so God forbid you were homeless, maybe someone talked to you, they talked to you again, they talked to you a third time, then you didn’t see them for a month or two. And there was no continuity, there was no trusts built. But if you really stay on the situation, things change. So 2,200 people in says this is a break through. Until we see huge change on the streets, we are not going to be stratified at all. But the approach is working in a way that previous approaches did not.
Question: Mr. Mayor?
Mayor: Go ahead.
Question: I was wondering what is the Doctor’s salary going to be? And I’m sorry if this is –
Mayor: We will get that to you. It’s the same Deputy Mayor salary. Go ahead.
Question: Just to be clear where did you move from and when are you moving to the city?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: I have been living in Miami. So, picked the wrong time of the year to move and I have – I’ll get my keys to my apartment tomorrow.
Question: Oh okay, so you just moved this week?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: I will be a City resident tomorrow.
Question: Mayor de Blasio, two questions. Can you confirm where these 18,000 workers are coming from? Are they coming from existing City agencies? Because obviously people will hear that and think they may be hiring. And secondly, can you explain how Outreach NYC might interface with the [inaudible] program, if at all?
Mayor: So, I’ll start and pass to Steve. I want people to just think about – Steve will talk about the different agencies involved – but I want you to think about, there's a lot of people work for the City who, during the course of the day, they're all over a neighborhood. And, previously, if they saw a homeless person, you know, a lot of them would pick up the phone, but they were not trained and, and instructed that this is a really valuable service to do, to tell us in real-time – not an hour later or six hours later, but right the moment you see someone let us know what's going on so we can act on it really quickly. So, it's realizing we have this extraordinary resource that was not being utilized properly and we could really get a lot more done, and Steve will talk about the details. The interconnection always is, and, again, I'm not trying – I'm not the expert, these guys are, so I'm going to try and put it in real simple terms. Whenever you get someone to come in – to get someone to come in, you have to engage them. Once they're in, now you can start to actually address their problem. So, say someone has a substance misuse problem – if you actually can get them the right kind of treatment, then you're able to have a different conversation with them. Or someone has a mental health problem that’s gone untreated for years, maybe decades – you get them treatment, you can actually start to open up a dialogue like, why – why did you end up on the street? Where is your family? Where is your support system? Once you start to identify – there was a story, a really powerful story, I want to say – help me out, Steve, maybe you’ll remember – it was the front cover of the Times, maybe four years ago, and it was a guy who was so mentally ill that no one who engaged him even knew he had family. And he came in, he started a treatment, and opened up, and I think his family was in the South, and his family didn't even know where he was. So once the – he was able to get, sort of, lucid again about it, the folks – the social workers were able to find his family, his family was happy to take him in and to have him, to find them again, and they brought him home. So, when you say the SOTA program, I want to remind people that the goal always is if someone has a place they can go to where they can be whole, where they can have support, where they can be around people that can really be there for them, yeah, that's the right thing to do. And so, sometimes it would lead to that. Other times, it would lead to someone, thank God, getting ongoing treatment and obviously being right here.
Commissioner Banks: So, just to – the SOTA program is a program that helps us reconnect people with family or helps people who have income to move out of shelter. This was based on a program that Ed Koch had, which was project reconnect. Ed Koch once said that no one sued him more than me. When I looked during the 90-day review that we did at all of the various programs, this seemed like a program that actually made sense because it was focused on giving people the ability to do that which the United States Constitution gives them the ability, which is the right to travel. And just as people travel to our city and seek help from us, there are people that want to travel to other places. And so, we created a rental assistance program that enabled people to do that. Thousands of people have taken advantage of it. As in any program, it can always be improved and we have continually made improvements in it, and we're going to keep making improvements in it. But there are still thousands of people that take advantage of it and remain out of shelter.
Question: Mayor, can you elaborate on how the City is tracking the street homeless in real time? And how the administration balances privacy concerns with actually getting people care?
Mayor: Yeah. Everything we do, we have to respect privacy, for sure. But, of course, we are also talking about people in desperate need who, if we don't create some continuity in our approach, they're not going to get mental health services, they’re not going to get substance misuse services. They're going to be potentially in a dangerous situation. So, we do try and balance those realities, obviously follow the laws. But I would point out, again, in a matter of weeks, we want to show all of you this new approach. Again, air traffic control, war room, whatever model you like, but a centralized headquarters where all of this is being coordinated. And I want you to even sort of see on these maps, you know, those different – some of those different points on the maps are places that have been persistent hotspots. So, it begins with saying, okay, if you know one or more homeless people are showing up at a place regularly, we're going to go to those places constantly and we're going to, every time we get a report, bang – someone’s going to go out there and engage them, and we're going to keep that on a much more consistent level than it's ever been before. We think that's going to yield real big results. So, that’s how we try and balance it.
Question: So, is the – kind of like, the list of how many people, is that to avoid [inaudible] situation where, you know, people or cops came in and didn't know that this man had a history of mental illness compared to the cops and that Precinct? Is that what you're looking to avoid?
Mayor: I think it's a different idea, but it's certainly complimentary, meaning the goal here is to get people off the street, which is good for everyone, because once you're off the street it means you're either reunited with your family or you are getting mental health or substance misuse services or you're in affordable housing. I mean, there's lots of potentially very good outcomes. If you're on the street, you're not getting any of those things. And, you know, there's real health and safety issues. So, I do think, to your point, that if there's a high level of engagement and a lot of coordination with the NYPD, that's good, because under neighborhood policing, an NCO is likely going to know about that. If it’s at all a consistent reality, an NCO and those sectored cops are going to be connecting with DHS and understanding, here's a person with a consistent problem, here's how we're engaging them, and PD is going to be a part of that too. So, it's going to help them know what they're dealing with.
Question: What does this training entail? Is it anything more than just dialing 3-1-1? Or are they supposed to interface themselves the way the outreach workers would do? And just to add on that, you know, you mentioned in the press release there are 2,100 beds for street homeless New Yorkers. They are about twice as many homeless people on the street, and we heard, you know, lots of issues about these punch cards [inaudible] –
Mayor: Okay. Can I actually – you’re getting deep in your second question – let me just do the first question, then we'll come to that question. On the first, I’m going to start – Steve, add. Think of it this way, whatever you do during your day as part of your job – if your boss says to you, hey, I need you to do another thing that, you know, you might've been doing informally, but I want you to do it formally now. I want you to – when you are riding around the neighborhood, walking around and neighborhood, if you see someone homeless, I want you to stop right there, make a call, here’s how to do it, here’s what to look for, here’s what's to report, because previously, again, it was too informal. I think a lot of City workers of their own heart went and did it, but we were missing an opportunity to say, we're going to show you exactly what we need in the way information and we need you to do it in real time.
Commissioner Banks: Just to your other question, it's important to understand what the numbers that are in your question actually represent. The 3,500 number is one point in time, a cold night in January required by the federal government to take that count. But, as part of HOME-STAT, we went further, and it's very transparently posted on our website, where we have a by-name list and we also have a list – a by-name list, not the actual names, but the number on our by-name list and the number on our prospect list. Remember, earlier, I answered the question, I said, look, about two-thirds of the people are transient – you’ll see them once or twice or a limited number of times, and then they find other alternatives. And it's the group that's actually on our by-name list that we know they're verified to be homeless, they're on the street, we're actively working to bring them in. And so the number of Safe Haven beds is really trying to be calibrated to the numbers of people that are on the street, that are remaining on the street, that we're really working to bring off the street. The people that are going to be on and off in a couple of days, we have regular shelters for those individuals and we have capacity, particularly on a cold day today. I want to make sure that everybody communicates we have capacity for people to come on in. So, again, as I said earlier, it's not a one-size-fits-all in terms of bringing people in from the streets. People who are there a very short time, we can bring into our existing shelters, people who have the challenges that the Mayor described that our outreach workers are interfacing with, those individuals need the Safe Havens and the stabilization bed.
Mayor: But the simplest answer is, if we got that magic moment where someone's ready to come in, there is always a place for them.
Commissioner Banks: Exactly.
Mayor: Never a question.
Question: You know, there was this report from the Comptroller's office about the BRC contract and subways and that this outreach maybe wasn't the most effective. So, is there a sort of some kind of analysis of how effective these outreach workers are [inaudible] as part of this program?
Commissioner Banks: I think the proof is in the 2,200 people who have been brought off the street and have remained off the street, including more than 600 from the subways. We are very much focused on enhancing our oversight of BRC. BRC is a longstanding organization that has important services that it provides. Some of you know that I became head of the Legal Aid Society when it almost went bankrupt. It was a great organization, but it needed reforms. And I know that the leader of that organization, Muzzy Rosenblatt, is a dedicated public servant and he's really committed to working with us to move the organization forward. And again, [inaudible] proof is ultimately in the pudding – how many individuals are coming off street and remaining off the street? And that's what we're very much focused on with BRC.
Mayor: Who has not gone? Juliet?
Question: So, will there be a database that you will have? And how do you coordinate or follow up with –
Mayor: There definitely is a database in terms of the big picture we're talking about, but we'll certainly also be tracking how each agency is doing in terms of getting information to us.
Commissioner Banks: I would just add, and, again, this goes to the privacy question – remember that data is being kept by a social services agency. The information coming from the City workers are helping us do our work with the individuals in our case management systems that we use to try to help individuals. So, it's just giving us the ability to respond more quickly to individuals and to see individuals who we might not have seen on our own without the eyes and ears of the City workforce.
Question: So, a regular New Yorker, let's say they see homeless people on their block on a regular basis. What do they do? Do they called 3-1-1 and does that get syphoned to what you're doing?
Commissioner Banks: We get the 3-1-1 calls and we respond to them and we address them. Is there a pattern here that we hadn't seen before? There's a role for, as you said, every-day New Yorkers, and they have been doing that, and they're helping us do that. Adding the City workers is deepening the effort that we're doing.
Question: Is there any sort of CompStat approach to be able to really look at numbers and get results and get – you know, that’s action-oriented?
Mayor: I would caution at the beginning, this is – God bless CompStat, which is absolutely extraordinary. I think this is even harder than the challenges often addressed by CompStat. This is, again – and I'm not for a moment belittling the challenges that PD has to deal with, but these, again, when you're talking about – it may take weeks, months, many months to get someone in, it’s not the same numerical dynamic. But the very notion of tracking the effectiveness – absolutely, because we are increasingly knowing pretty much where everyone is. There's some examples where someone moves around so much we can't keep track or there's some in some very obscure place we don't see. But, overwhelmingly, we're now seeing where people are. This new era, it’s going to make that even more so. And then we can watch literally person by person how many contacts we've had. Is it working? What do we need to do different? It’s a horrible human tragedy, but it's also really finite. If we're talking about per the last count – about 3,500 people – we can actually have a plan for each person. And so, on that level, very much like CompStat – we want to know, just like CompStat, we’ll look blocked by block what we're doing, we're going to look person by person. But I don't want to leave you with a misimpression there’s any instant gratification here. We can be at some cases for months, even years before we see a result, and that's just the way it is.
Question: So, Mr. Mayor, 18,000 contrasts with what number of people directly tasked with the street homeless now? And do you have – when does it start? And are there any metric goals that you've established for yourselves?
Mayor: I’m going to start and pass to Steve. Steve, will tell you how many formal outreach workers we have right now, how many people from homeless services do this kind of work who are city employees. He's going to tell you, you know, how many officers are in the homeless outreach unit of the NYPD – all substantial forces, nowhere near the size of this, that’s why he's right to use the word force-multiplier – this brings a whole lot more eyes and ears in. We’re just announcing this in terms of a metrical goals. I think we need to see how it works to begin and try and establish some sense of what we think would be the right number of reports to be getting to making sure that the thing is working and then, you know, translate that into what it allows us to do. So, I think this is really some brand new territory for us. Just like HOME-STAT a few years ago, it was something that had never been tried before. This is a new approach, but it will lead, ultimately, absolutely, to a metrical construct.
Commissioner Banks: Just very briefly – as part of HOME-STAT, we doubled the number of outreach workers from about 200 to 400. As we announced a couple of months ago, we've been expanding outreach and our joint operations and, obviously, adding more resources to that to that number of outreach workers.
Mayor: Anyone who hasn't gone first round? Over there?
Question: [Inaudible] their fear is that this effort aims to remove the homeless population from public view and doesn't quite address issues that are causing homelessness. What would you say to that?
Mayor: I think we've covered it, but I'll say it again. The goal here is to help human beings. I hope people are hearing all that we're talking about, about what it takes and the amount of effort and resources we're putting into each individual to get them off the street for their own good, for their own wellbeing. And, again, talk to these outreach workers, and these are angels – I mean, they're just as – this is what they're devoting their life to. So, no, no one should mistake the motivation. Second, the problem of street homelessness and the problem of shelter are two entirely different realities, and we have to be clear about that. Anyone who says, again, that the more jobs we create, you know, the more we stop evictions, the higher wages are, the more affordable housing we create does help us address folks going into shelter. All that is true and we're trying to do that on a vast scale. But, no, the street problem is – look, a lot of you know the history – folks were dumped. This began – everyone knows when this began in the Ed Koch administration. I'm not blaming Ed Koch. Folks who are dumped out of the Willowbrooks of the world – there were mental institutions that were proven to be horrible, inhumane places and, rather than fixing them or come up with an actual solution – there were supposed to be solutions, there were supposed to be halfway houses. None of that happened. So, massive numbers of people are dumped on the streets in New York City without any help. And to this day, folks with mental health problems coming out of State prisons just are dropped off on the corner – good luck. So, we've got to be honest about this. This is a mental health challenge and a substance misuse challenge and with deep, deep roots in people's lives. An actual healthcare system nationally would be the single best solution. We're trying to do our own version of that as best we can here. But no, no, no, no – we have to be really clear, these are deep, deep problems that require as much as we can throw at them.
Question: Mr. Mayor, if can address the Deputy Mayor in Spanish for Univision.
[Reporter speaks in Spanish]
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Muchas gracias.
[Deputy Mayor Perea-Hense speaks in Spanish]
Mayor: Who has not gone back there?
Question: Wondering if you could dive a little bit deeper into the training. What sort of information are you looking for specifically? And is there ever a time you don't want them to call, you know, just in respect to privacy or is it always called when you see someone on the street, period?
Mayor: I’ll start and go to Steve. I mean, again, I totally get the privacy concern, but someone living on the streets by definition is in crisis. If you're living on the streets, something went really wrong, and a lot of times that correlates to immediate health and safety dangers. So, of course, we want that call to come in and what that call activates is someone who will go out there who's trained to engage them and offer them help. So, no, I think that's a pretty across-the-board instruction.
Mayor: Before this initiative, every-day New Yorkers would call us, have called us to say, hey, I see someone in distress on a particular block; or a, hey, I see someone who's been on this block an awful lot; or, they weren't there, and now they are. We get that information now from every-day New Yorkers. This initiative is to multiply that by the eyes and ears of City workers, thousands of City workers. So, we're not asking the City workers to make a judgment about the individual. We're looking for information about the location and what is going on there.
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: If I can – if I may add just one thing. I did say this in Spanish, but I just want to now do it in English. As a physician in the trio here – remember, mental illness and substance use come with altered consciousness, and, very often, present with paranoia associated with this condition. It could be bipolar disorder, schizophrenia is also very, very common with this population. And so, you can well believe that you're not talking to a regular person. I understand how difficult it is for all of us to understand why. You know, why is it not so simple? But remember, you're talking to someone who is not completely functioning mentally the way you and I are.
Part 4 Not proofed
Question: [Inaudible] location, woman, maybe 40’s – basic information, how much if at all do you want them to go?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Just like if you were calling in or you were using the 3-1-1 app, you would tell me that at a particular location I see someone in distress, or at a particular location I’ve seen someone there for the last couple of days, I had seen no one there before. That’s useful information to us and that’s what we’re asking city workers to do.
Mayor: Yeah, just one more point on this [inaudible] just realize again, I want to put the two pieces together. One, the number of contacts is how you get to trust, is how you figure out if – think about in your life if you getting to know someone. Each time you engage them you’re learning something new. Hopefully you’re building some trust and a real relationship, but this is a much, much harder version of that because these are folks who have gone through so much, so actually getting to them really matters. If a city worker says hey there’s someone at the corner of 14th Street and 1st Avenue, and that allows us to get an outreach worker there in 30 minutes or 45 minutes and they can engage that person versus miss that person, that’s actually really, really important because we need as many contacts as possible to build that trust. So I think it’s going to allow faster, better connections with people, it’s going to allow us to not miss someone if we a have a precious opportunity to engage them. But it is really basic information just to allow the outreach workers to get there.
Question: For the 18,000 city workers will there be a mandate that they make these calls? Will they be granted extra time in their work day to do this?
Mayor: No, it’s training, it’s instruction, and obviously these calls take only a few minutes.
Question: [Inaudible] for the Doctor, you mentioned that you hope to bring the homelessness population to zero, make it manageable [inaudible] HIV, AIDS is. Is that realistic, and can you point to city in the United States or in America where it’s worked well, it’s a model?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: I cannot point to a city, and remember, the HIV epidemic took 20 years, little by little, everybody engaged. At the VA, what I can tell you is that there are cities that have claimed zero veteran homelessness in a course of five years. So, progress comes in stages. I think what the Mayor and Steve have been doing is significant progress. Now we still need to do more. I mean I don’t ever belittle the issue. We need to intensify our efforts and make sure that three years from now this is not only stable numbers but decreasing numbers.
Question: Is there a goal or year by which you would hope it’d take to get to zero?
Mayor: I’ll jump in on that because Raul is even on board yet but we said set out in – welcome to New York City –
Have you solved homelessness yet, Raul?
What the hell are you waiting for?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: Five minutes.
Mayor: We set out in Turning the Tide, it’s almost a parallel to what we’re talking about, engaging people on the street, but we set out, persistent progress. We’re not being dishonest in saying we’re going to promise you a rainbow, it’s going to be persistent. I believe with the new initiatives that we are putting in place, we’re going to achieve that on the street side because we already have seen the beginning of a decline. We have more to do on the shelter side but I believe you’re going to see in the course of the next six months or so some real progress on that front too. But I – it is about persistence and incrementalism. I said that the day I announced Turning the Tide, is – you know me, if I can do big, bold fast I will happily do it, but this is about incrementalism given the sheer complexity of the problem.
I think what Raul is saying is very powerful though. We take a Vision Zero approach and it means kind of different things in different situations. Some situations like lead, we’re talking about pure eradication. Other situations like ending crashes, we’re talking about aspiring to something that’s kind of utopian, but is driving us to big changes. We’re not telling you what year we’ll be at perfect zero, we understand how hard it is, but we believe we can make steady progress. So, I think here the point is it doesn’t have to be this way. There once was a time where we did not have anywhere near this amount of street homelessness. We’ve actually seen that with our own eyes. And I think the point about HIV and AIDS is a really good point. In the middle of that, the height of that crisis, I think a lot of us thought this was going to only get worse. So I would only say to you, I believe we can steadily reduce this problem. I don’t think we have pure zero in sight right now but I believe we can steadily reduce the problem.
Question: Are the City workers going to be calling 3-1-1, or is there like a special municipal hotline?
Commissioner Banks: 3-1-1.
Commissioner Banks: I’m sorry?
Question: 3-1-1, you’re saying?
Commissioner Banks: We’re encouraging them to use the app which is actually a very helpful tool for us because then we have a much more quicker response.
Mayor: Okay, anyone who has not gone yet. Back there?
Question: Yeah, Mr. Mayor, I’m really curious about what this comprehensive, systematic training is going to look like. You mentioned as well that it’s just the same as what we would do if we were to use the app to call 3-1-1, so what does it take to –
Mayor: Well you are not – it’s a simple notion here, you’re not trained, and I’m not saying this negatively, I’m saying you’re a human being, you see something, you’re going to make the judgement to make the call as opposed to saying “okay, we want you to think about your work day, we want you to think about everywhere you go, we want you to be constantly looking, if you see the problem, if you know there are certain areas that you should look at in particular because you’ve seen a problem before we want you to focus on those areas. We want you to describe this kind of information. We want you to do it, you know, in this kind of timeline, it’s not like it’s rocket science but it is about setting a set of parameters and training people to achieve those goals.
Who has not gone? Please, anyone not gone? Go ahead.
Question: Mr. Mayor and Commissioner, you’ve mentioned that people, New Yorkers, kind of use 3-1-1 on an ad-hoc basis to report homelessness. Do you have a sense for how many of those calls or messages have come in over the course of a year, and what’s resulted from that x number of people being brought inside for instance?
Mayor: I’m going to start and pass to Steve. I’m sure we can get you the overall data if he doesn’t have it at his fingertips but I can say the 2,200 people, which – what’s the start point on HOME-STAT?
Commissioner Banks: April 2016.
Mayor: Okay. So the 2,200 people – that’s a pure measure since a brand new – of course when you put a brand new thing on the playing field it’s not instantly effective. You’ve got to work it out and make it work. But in three to three and half years, 2200 hundred people, an when we’re saying in I want to emphasize, who have been confirmed to have not gone back out because, Steve said an important thing – even if someone comes in for a day or a week it’s still valuable. It still helps us help the person, but the real measure is come off the streets, stay of the streets. So that’s one powerful measure of the impact and those calls and the work that’s been done. But in terms of overall numbers –
Commissioner Banks: Yeah, we’ll get you the overall numbers, but again I want to come back to the purpose of the city worker calls, and the purpose of regular everyday New Yorker calls. They give us insight into whether someone in distress at that moment that we might not have seen with our eyes, and they also give us insight into whether or not there’s activity and individuals, several individuals at a particular location that we hadn’t seen people previously. So the result is not “I made a call and as the Mayor said today the person is not there anymore.” The result to us is it’s given us an additional information tool to help people on the pathway off the street. And that’s how we got to the 2,220.
Mayor: I’m going to do a few more but I wanted to see is there anyone who has not gotten with a first question in? Anybody , anybody? No. Go ahead, Anna.
Question: Just wanted to clear up the salary question. Just bear with me –
Question: One of your staffers did get it to me and it turns out that his salary will be $252,000 about, and Herminia – Dr. Palacio left at $244,000. Is there any reason why she would have made less?
Mayor: I don’t have an answer for you, let me confirm those numbers.
Go ahead, Yoav.
Question: I think you guys have said a number of times that anyone on the street how wants to come off there’s a place for them, but I’ve been hearing consistently from the advocates who are the ground that that’s not the case because there’s a large number of people who refuse to go to shelters, because of the problems shelters have. There’s not enough supportive housing, there’s not enough safe havens. So they’re saying the problem is not that we don’t have enough people engaging people, we have nowhere to offer them that they’re willing to accept. Are you not hearing the same thing –
Mayor: No, I’m hearing some of that but I want to contest the assumption. God bless advocates and the role they play but I’m talking about what the front line workers are saying, what are the people –
Question: [Inaudible] on the ground.
Mayor: I’m talking, again, about – I don’t want to compare abstractions with you, I’m just going to talk about what are people who are engaging the homeless are saying. Is there, and Steve you’ll add or correct if you need, but what I’m hearing is their central challenge is not do they have save haven bed or do they have a shelter that would work for that person. Their central challenge is getting the person to come in. Now I agree if you say we simultaneously have to address the sort of long standing concerns like shelter security, very really problem for obvious reasons. We’re talking about bringing a lot of people in who have had a life time of trouble and we’re trying to help them, but remember, something very different has occurred in the last few years. For the first time since modern homelessness began in the Koch administration, under our administration the NYPD took over the supervision and the training of all shelter security. That is bearing fruit. We’re seeing shelters get a lot safer and that word is getting around. So again, I’m not saying to you we have everything we want, but I am saying to you, when someone gets that moment they’re will to come in, we do have options for them.
Commissioner Banks: Just to emphasize, you know, we're adding more Safe Haven beds. We're getting out of shelters that we think don't meet our standards and adding more shelters. And supportive housing from the State and City is beginning to come online. So, you always could use more resources and there's a pathway for those resources. I think the bigger challenge that I see when I talk to homeless clients on the street is we have a bed but it might not be the right bed for that client. In other words, they really want one in this particular area of the city where their – this is where they'd been on the street for a period of time, months, years, and to go to a bed that's not near there, they don't want that bed. And so part of what we're trying to bring online is more options for people that are saying that to us. And obviously we wouldn't be adding more beds if we didn't think that there was more we could do to be able to convince more people to come in.
Mayor: Answering the previous question just everyone I want to make sure we get this straight – the deputy mayor, every deputy mayor and other officials, have had a cost-of-living increase across the board because of the DC 37 labor of contract, which then triggers managerial increases. So that's the explanation for that. Marcia?
Question: [Inaudible] understand that right now your numbers are that you have about 3,500 or so street homeless and, Steve, you're saying that about – of that number 2,100 about are the kinds of people you think you might have a chance of bringing in. But my question to you, in addition, if you could go through those numbers, is this, how has the number of street homeless fluctuated? You say that you brought 2,200 people in that never went back on the street. It seems to me that the number of street homeless has remained the same despite the 2,200. So just can you walk me through all those numbers so that we understand what you’re talking about?
Commissioner Banks: Sure. I think the best source of numbers would be the by-name list that we post on our website that tells you that, you know, at any given time is around 1,300 to 1,500 people on a by-name list. That means people were actively bringing off this – trying to bring off the street –
Mayor: We don’t put the name out. Let's be clear.
Commissioner Banks: Right. It's the number of people on [inaudible] list –
Mayor: That’s the cumulative number.
Commissioner Banks: And that reflects people that were confirmed to be homeless and we're actively engaging them. There's approximately 2,000 that are on what we would call a prospect list. We're trying to determine are they going to remain on the street or not? That's in that group that I described earlier as – there's a group of people that, it's about two-thirds of the people, are only going to be – they'll be seen once or twice. They're transient. And the fact that the number, that 3,500 number that's put out there, that's the annual HOPE count required by HUD and it's done in January. But we measure our work against the by-name list and the prospect list and what are those numbers. Now, you might say, why is there a decrease of about two percent in the number of people in last year's HUD count versus the prior year if that many people have come off the street? I think it just reflects the fact that people are transient and coming in off the street.
Question: Since 2016, you were able to convince 2,200 people to leave the streets. But it seems to me that the number of people on the street – that must keep increasing because it seems like that number of people on the street is still 3,500 and has been that way since you started in 2016.
Commissioner Banks: I think – I think you're right to focus on the reality that there are other people falling between the cracks and falling through the social safety net even as we're bringing people off the street. But that just means we need to redouble our efforts to keep bringing people off the streets and to also do everything we can to keep people from falling through the social safety [inaudible].
Mayor: It's a really important question. So, I – and I've asked the same question in many meetings and I think the – so a couple of things. One, we do see a net decrease. So this is important and we're about to do a HOPE count that will tell us a lot coming up. But something is starting to move in the overall numbers in the right direction. It's not as much as you would think. You're right to say that 2,200 is a massive number against what is typically we think 3,500. Why is it not a more seismic impact? Clearly the number of people who keep coming on the streets, that's a real concern. Again, I think we've got a problem here that every day that someone has a problem and let's – take opioids, you know, every day if someone, for example, has an opioid problem and it can't get treatment, don't get treatment, you know, that's leading to that point where they could go on the street. We have a lot of challenges that we've just got to keep fighting to get people help before they ever get to the street and then to get them off if they do, God forbid. But trying to get our arms around exactly what's happening, this has been tough because of the sheer complexity of the problem. I want to see this next HOPE count. When we get those numbers?
Commissioner Banks: Later in the spring.
Mayor: Okay. So this'll be an indicator of whether we're seeing these strategies, having the impact we think they are but I – in the meantime, I don't have any doubt, you know, even if you're dealing with an imperfect reality, this is at least directionally right. We're seeing enough progress to know to keep doing this and just try and do more of it. Okay. Last call. Go ahead.
Question: I'm wondering if it's currently required for these outreach workers to be working on a daily basis in all five boroughs and in hotspots where there's homelessness.
Commissioner Banks: Yes. Our outreach workers are out 24/7 in all five boroughs and also in the subway system.
Mayor: Okay. Gloria,
Question: Sir, a question for the doctor. You talked about the problems of mental illness, the difficulty in getting someone to trust the worker, to trust government to help them, that kind of thing. I wonder if you have a position on involuntary commitment and if there is anything that – and for the mayor – if the administration is at all considering a change to that policy since clearly these workers are coming across people who clearly are in serious mental distress and need serious mental health care but will not seek of themselves, maybe they need to be involuntarily [inaudible] –
Mayor: That's a good question and a lot of – I think it’s a really important sort of common sense question that New Yorkers have on their minds. And I think that the law has been pretty clear about there has to be a demonstrated danger to themselves or others. But I think ensuring that everyone who is engaging them is noticing any potential and getting the health care professionals who can make that formal assessment on the scene quickly, that's where I think we can do better. And we're trying to glue things together. That's why seeing a problem and getting to it quick really matters. Because once an appropriate health care professional says, yeah, that that person right now is presenting as a threat to themselves or others, that's when more aggressive action can be taken. But remember, we're trying to do both. And, again, sometimes I think there's an impulse to just want to use the most forceful means.
It's, you know, it sounds convenient, but our laws are there for a reason in terms of balancing privacy and liberty versus, you know, health, safety, social, you know, the good of the whole. So I would argue too that making sure the right professionals in the right place at the right time is one part of it. But for the folks for whom it's not that, they aren't a threat to themselves or others but they are living on the streets and it's not good, that's where that constant outreach and winning the trust is the only viable path. Do you want to add?
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: I think you just said it all. It’s a public health matter apart from the [inaudible]. When I was working with Dr. Jones at the Department of Mental Health, we had in those days mental health emergencies. Somebody who is demonstratively endangering themselves or others, and I think it holds – it still holds. You know, individual rights versus making sure – by the way, I think that the way the system will work will give us a better perspective on sooner how to observe someone that could get to that point before they actually get there.
Mayor: I want to give credit where credit is due at this point, and thank Dr. Jones for training you well. You did good. You did good. You took a rookie and you taught him how to do this work. Okay.
Question: I know the laws are in place for a reason. But I'm wondering if there is the thinking that maybe the law needs to be updated or changed because I understand what you're saying about a person showing that they are a – they could possibly be a harm to themselves or others, but one of, just as an example, something that New Yorkers run into almost every day. You have perhaps a person on a subway car who's taking up a large amount of room with a bunch of stuff that they're carrying around and you say to yourself, this person's clearly struggling with some sort of a mental illness, but they're not being threatening to me or engaging in something that is outwardly violent. So my question specifically, is there something – a change that's worth considering [inaudible] –
Mayor: We’ve looked at this – that's a great question, but I want you to hear that this has been a really substantial ongoing discussion with our Law Department, with our Social Services folks, and a recognition of where law stands in America today on these kinds of questions and also a recognition that, one, there are people who we can do a better job if at any given moment they're a threat to themselves or others, identifying that, documenting that appropriately with a mental health – or with a health professional, I'm sorry – and acting on it. There's a need for a much more comprehensive, assertive outreach. We've been building it up and building it up and we're building it up more because many times there are missed opportunities if someone's not in the right place, the right time to see that and act on it and get the professional there.
So, one, within the current law we can do better and this is part of what we're talking about today. This will facilitate doing better within the law and then, two, to recognize that for the folks for whom the law – even a change in the law would not apply to their circumstances, that's where this more patient work has to happen. But no, it's a very meaningful question. And so far in all of our discussions, we don't think there is an obvious law change that would pass muster legally in court that actually would affect the situation profoundly. Okay. Please –
Deputy Mayor Perea-Henze: If I may, just public health dictates there is such a stage as observation and I think we're putting all of these workers now out. They will actually enhance that observation phase before they actually get to be harmful to themselves or others.
Mayor: Okay. Let us go to other topics.
Question: Mr. Mayor, at a recent Council hearing – we're going to make a U-turn here guys, but at a –
Mayor: Really? I’m shocked.
Question: [Inaudible] NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan said that the triple digit percentage increase in cyclist deaths this year was due to the increase in the number of cyclists. Is that a new position for the administration or do you see other factors [inaudible] –
Mayor: No, I don't. I respect Tom Chan immensely, but I think that's one I'm sure he did not mean to imply anything but his concern because this is a guy who has devoted himself for years to trying to build Vision Zero and protect cyclists and pedestrians and motorists in a whole new way and, of course, more people always means there's more potential for danger. But no, I think this is about tragedies that we have to, in every way we can, prevent. There's always going to be some human realities that government can't reach. But there's much, much more we can and will do to stem this. And I keep coming back to, you know, we couldn't – it's just impossible that we had five years of steady progress and it wasn't directionally right. We've had a horrible year, a painful year, an unacceptable year, but the direction is still the right direction. We just have to do a lot more and more deeply.
Question: Follow up to that though, at the same hearing, Chief Chan had said that 22 percent of the tickets that the NYPD officers issued for red light violations go to cyclists despite the fact that cyclists have caused less than one percent of the carnage that you're seeing on the streets. The rest of it being caused by cars and they're getting over 78 percent of the tickets. So does that same a proportionate response [inaudible] –
Mayor: I think we have to do more of everything, honestly, and I've – you know, you and I probably are going to disagree on this. I’ve said a thousand times, you've been there, that motor vehicles are the central problem. That's where the vast majority of our efforts go – the reduction in the speed limit, the speed cameras, the enforcement of speeding, and failure to yield, the street redesign. That's all cars, trucks, cars, trucks, cars, trucks. But I also – we can't have a dishonest conversation when we're talking about life and death. There are still plenty of bicyclists who do not follow the rules and put themselves in danger and can put others in danger.
Probably, you're right, much less often they put other people in danger compared to a motor vehicle. Absolutely. I'm worried about them. I'm worried about someone that goes through a red light and putting themselves in danger. So we're going to create order in this whole circumstance, Vision Zero is for everyone. I want pedestrians to stop wading out into traffic because you know, they're texting while walking and not paying attention to the car that's about to hit them. I want everyone to comport themselves differently. But first and foremost, I want motor vehicle operators to understand they're holding people's lives in their hands. So no, we're going to do all of the above. Marcia?
Question: Mr. Mayor, more than a month ago, a Brooklyn school board member by the name of Jackie Cody referred to Asian Americans as “yellow folks” and it was in a school [inaudible]. Asian Americans are very, very upset about this. They say the Chancellor has not denounced the comment or removed her. What do you think of the comment and do you think that the board member should be forced to resign or should resign?
Mayor: First of all, I don't know the comment. I don't know the context. It sounds very insensitive to me. It's not something I think anyone should say. This is an elected school board member. So the first question I have is, has this school board member apologize and – the name's Jackie, you said?
Mayor: I don't know if Jackie is a male or female. So I will say they – that they should apologize and understand the hurtfulness of that phrase. So, this is someone elected, I honestly do not know and I will find out today what the Chancellor's abilities to remove an elected official are. I don't know that answer, but I think let's start at the beginning. If someone said something wrong, I want them to apologize so we can move forward.
Question: [Inaudible] Chancellor denounce the comment [inaudible] –
Mayor: And I think if the Chancellor hears about it, and knowing the Chancellor immediately, the Chancellor would say that's inappropriate and wrong, and that that individual should apologize. Go ahead.
Question: Mr. Mayor a question, off topic, I just wanted to know if you have any comments regarding that precocious this nine-year-old yesterday who had a lot of questions for you –
Mayor: Amazing, Amaryllis – was that her name. Amaryllis was like – I was like, I was expecting her to be like a teenager. She’s a fourth grader. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I thought she was great and I love that, you know, we kept saying, okay, one question per person and she had her five questions and then she at the end of me answering her five questions, she was like, I have a few more questions. I said, that is definitely a public servant of the future. Please.
Question: Mr. Mayor, a couple of reporters who were there spoke with her afterwards and we asked how she felt about your responses, were they adequate, and she said, not quite.
She said she'd like to hear more from you on homelessness, how to get homeless people back on their feet. She also said she has a whole other list of questions for you. We even invited her to her Room Nine to see what it's like in the press room. Would you sit down with her and give her, you know, more detailed answers to her very serious questions that are shared by most of New Yorkers?
Mayor: Sure. I would just say to you, of course, I'm happy to talk to again, but I also want us not to – I'm going to be real with you. This is a fourth grade girl, let's not turn her into, you know, a pawn here. Let's be respectful of her. I tried to answer her with great respect last night and I think I gave real answers and you're hearing a lot more, but I'd be happy to talk to her again. Go ahead.
Question: Mayor de Blasio, can you talk about the proposal or the call this morning you made for vendor zones in subways and also respond to the MTA saying that it's incumbent upon the City to raise the cap for licensed food vendors in those areas.
Mayor: A couple of things – it’s a great question, thank you. I think that there's a reason why people are feeling so much about these videos because they just don't make sense when you see them. Right? You don't want to see someone who's trying to make a living end up in a bad situation. You know, we – there's so many things that we need our officers to do. I think we all implicitly feel like there's got to be better things for officers to do than this. And I want to emphasize, under the current laws, the current rules our officers were doing their job. We also have situations we have to be honest about where people are not listening to the instructions of officers. That's unacceptable. And that's just a line on – I’m going to say it time and time again – if an officer asks for your ID, you have to give them the ID. If the officer asks you to move, you have to move. And I just – this is not optional stuff. This is how we keep this city safe.
But I think the underlying reality is that if someone wants to sell something in the subway, I would call upon the MTA to delineate spaces where they can do that. Not a place where it's going to jam everything up and make it impossible for people to move in and out. But we know a lot of subway stations where there's a lot of space. Can we find some designated spaces, make those available to vendors, have a permitting process. They would have to, you know, Department of Health look at their food, if they're selling food, whatever it is like we do with other things. But it's a different reality than what goes on over ground, you know, above ground that we have an opportunity in the subways to do something smart and I think the MTA should do it. Look, an over ground example is Times Square where we set up zones and it's been generally successful to have people that this is where you can do – sell something, this is where you can't. So that's the first part.
I think on your other question, I've said that there's a way to get to more vendor licenses, but it must come with some rules of its own. And this is what I've said to the City Council repeatedly over two different terms. One, we have to address the fraud, the black market in vendor permits, all sorts of stuff. We need a much tighter enforcement plan. And if we're going to authorize more vendors, it has to be in geographical zones because I do not want to see the bricks and mortar stores that are struggling, mom-and-pop shops, you know, long time neighborhood stores are struggling, I don't want to see them undermined further. So is there a pathway to do that? Sure, there is, but just to finish the point, look, I believe in neighborhood policing and neighborhood policing – and this is a conversation I've had with Chief Shea as he prepares to take command of the NYPD – neighborhood policing calls for us to find another approach here.
We've got to figure out how to work with people at the community level to resolve some of these issues because it should not come down to a situation where we need to use arrest. We should try a lot of other tools first. That's the whole concept of neighborhood policing. Have a dialogue with people bringing community leaders to talk about the situation, address the situation, and I think that's going to solve a lot. We don't have, really, a lot of these kinds of cases in the scheme of things. I think if we have a deeper neighborhood policing approach, it's going to help us solve a lot of them.
Question: Just a quick follow-up to that. So, this morning, MTA Chairman Pat Foye was speaking on this issue and it seems to be a little bit of a blame game going back and forth. Is it incumbent upon the City or is it the MTA’s responsibility? So, who do you see as leading that initiative and designating those zones?
Mayor: I think there are two very different things. The MTA is the MTA, right? If we're talking about the subway system, the State runs the MTA, the MTA is its own entity. We don't set those rules. We are the lead in terms of law enforcement, but we don't set the rules. I'm making a simple statement – and I have members on the board of the MTA – and what we're saying today is, establish vendor zones and that will help address this problem. We all know there are people selling things in the subways – it’s not new, it’s been going on for generations. Let's make sense of it. Someone made a very good point about the musicians in the subway. Once upon a time, that was all very informal and sometimes it was a problem. They’ve set up in a place where everyone was trying to walk and it created all sorts of confusion. What did the MTA do? They said, okay, we're going to designate where you can be, there’s going to be a process to get a permit, and you can play music that this hour at this place, and lo and behold it worked. So, let's do the same thing for vendors. Meanwhile, the City has to address the vendor issue to above ground, and my view is we actually – we came really close in 2017 to an agreement toward the end of the year. We could still get there, but it cannot be a free for all, it has to be with real clear limits. So, I think there's two different pieces of a solution.
Question: Quick follow-up to that – this morning, Pat Foye said he is waiting for a proposal from the City. Are you presenting the MTA with a proposal to the –
Mayor: This is something that – look, this issue came to the fore in the last days. We said today, we think this is part of solving it. We'll happily provide a formal proposal.
Question: [Inaudible] why you're opposed to Staten Island seceding from New York City when the issue hasn't been studied in recent years, which is essentially what Councilman Joe Borelli’s legislation would do – study whether Staten Island could secede and how much it would cost.
Mayor: Why on earth would any New Yorker, and, specifically, the Mayor of New York City want to see a part of our city leave us. It’s half-a-million people. It's a big part of our city. We're all interconnected – folks who – look, so many Staten Islanders are public servants or first responders, connected to all the rest of us and we're connected to them. You know, I think there were a lot of issues in the past and we have tried really consistently to address those issues. Folks have said, hey, we need to see better education for our kids – Staten Island now has disproportionately benefited from the pre-K initiative – huge increases in early child education for free for the people Staten Island. Folks wanted more repaving streets – we’re repaving on a level never seen before in Staten Island. Folks wanted more transit options – we expanded a Staten Island ferry service, addressed issues in the terminal. We obviously are adding the new ferry going to the West side of Manhattan. Look, I value Staten Island a lot and we're going to keep doing stuff for Staten Island, but we need our city to be one.
Question: I want to go back to the vendor question and what you had said with street vendors. And when, you know, doing reporting and speaking to small business owners, restaurant owners or bar owners, they feel more threatened, not by vendors, but by rising commercial rents that are unrestricted by what they call unfunded mandates for paid vacation time, paid leave that you've worked to pass. So do you have a comment on that? You know that the brick and mortar stores are under threat in New York City, but it might not be from someone telling selling tacos on the corner, someone’s selling churros outside.
Mayor: The first problem – great question, but the first problem is neither of those. The first problem is online shopping. I'm hearing this –
Mayor: No, I'm hearing this from everyone, that, you know, the central problem – and let's separate retail from food for a moment – but the central problem for retail is what's happening with the bigger economy, what’s happening with consumer preferences. It’s just really, really hurting a lot of retail establishment – that’s the central problem. I think we have a real problem with rent levels in some places. Not everywhere, but some places, you know, commercial rent levels are a central problem and we're trying to figure out what combination of carrots and sticks and changes can we make to try and address that – and vacancy tax might be one of those options. But I have talked to store owners who, if they have a vendor outside the store selling what they sell – that’s a problem. It may not be the number-one problem, but it's a problem. And for retail and certainly for grocery stores, these are thin-margin operations. So, if someone's directly competing and the City's licensing it and they can be right there, that's a problem. That's why I think just the geography matters here. Let's try and have some sanity about if we’re going to authorize vendors who do certain things, let’s try and get them to places that are not directly competing as much and can serve people don't have as many options, right? So, no, I think these other issues are real, but, I think we still need a geographical approach. I had generally don't agree on folks – I've had this conversation – I do not agree that the things that are helping protect health, like paid sick days, giving people decent wages, I don't think that's the central problem. I know it costs money, I have no illusion. I also think it makes for healthier workers, folks who stay at the job longer. I think there's a lot of positives in that too.
Question: A follow-up – do you support a cap to stabilize commercial rents?
Mayor: I’ve been asked this a lot. Every time that I've been in a conversation over years on commercial rent control, I can't find a legal way to do it. I'm sympathetic to the idea. I'd love to find every tool. Look, we reduced commercial rent tax in part of Manhattan a couple of years ago because we saw that as a specific thing we could do to provide some relief. We've reduced fines – Sanitation, Consumer Affairs, you know, a bunch of agencies have reduced fines now 40, 50 percent compared to the previous administration. So, we're doing a lot of things to try and provide support. But to-date, I have not seen a commercial rent control plan that actually legally works.
Go ahead, Rich.
Question: Mr. Mayor, your predecessor is considering – he’s making a decision about whether or not to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obviously, you've had some experience in that area. What advice –
Mayor: I have experience in both things.
I know about his previous job and the job he’s seeking.
Question: What advice would you offer him? And what chances do you think he has of success?
Mayor: You know, I – again, I said it to some of you, but I'll repeat – ground rules for my trying to, you know, think about this issue. First of all, a guy I agreed with on some things, disagreed with on more things, who did some good things for the City and I think really made some mistakes as well. Would he be a better president than Donald Trump? Unquestionably – unquestionably, any of those who are running in the Democratic field would be a better president than Donald Trump. Whoever's the nominee is, I'm going to support. And I give him points again on things like climate change, gun safety, immigration, public health, generally. But the place where he fell down, he fell down real bad. And that was, he did not and does not understand income inequality, he does not understand that working people are being cheated in this country.
He does not want to tax the wealthy more and, you know – oh, by the way, he's a billionaire. And I honestly don't think a billionaire should be running our country. I don't think a billionaire should be the nominee of our party, by definition. But on top of that, a billionaire who, when confronted with the Great Recession, literally refused to recognize the problem. And had a lot of tools his disposal he wouldn't use. Remember, the whole paid sick days report? Issue, I should say. I remember 2013 it was, you know, it feels like a century ago, but literally, Bloomberg – when we were all clamoring for paid sick days for people in the middle of an economic crisis, you know, he was taking the position he had had to wait until times were better and the skies were sunny, and I took the position it was exactly when people were hurting that they needed things like paid sick days. I mean, he just didn't get it. So, I can't give you easy advice because I don't think he gets it still. And I, again, respect him but I don't think he should be our nominee. If, by chance, he is, I, of course, would support him or anyone who's running.
Question: [Inaudible] you charge $6 a day for street parking to pay for all the public transportation across the city. I'm curious what you make of –
Mayor: Say it again?
Question: To charge $6 a day for street parking and how that could pay for all the public transportation across the City or begin to chip away from debt. Can you –
Mayor: I didn't see that, but what – you mean – are you saying charge a higher rate?
Question: For street parking – for public street parking.
Mayor: Okay. I'm failing to fully gather because I haven't read the editorial. So, how about I read the editorial and then you'll get a chance to come back on that one.
Question: [Inaudible] behind the scenes of a couple of days ago when NYCHA had to end up rescheduling work, it would have cut off heat and hot water in the middle of the coldest few days. How did that even come to pass and what's being put in place to make sure that doesn't happen again?
Mayor: Yeah, I want to – it’s a good question, but I want to make clear that the vast majority of the work on heat systems happens in the warmer months. So, you know, NYCHA has had a lot of problems, and they're trying to change the culture, and they're trying to fix it, you know, decades of disinvestment, but they're not stupid. Like, of course, the work on the heat goes on in the warmer months, except that's not the only time that work is needed. So, unfortunately, we're dealing with – I don't know if you've had the joy of being in a NYCHA boiler room in a 50-year-old or 60-year-old development. It's not a pretty sight. Sometimes they have to do that kind of foundational maintenance works in some of the colder times too. But they're supposed to exercise common sense about looking for days that would be less of a problem and it was scheduled, but when it became clear it was going to be a frigid day, they stopped it. So, on that level, the system worked, they caught the problem and they addressed the problem. But look, we've made a lot of progress on heat, compared to two years ago. A lot more has to be done. I'm glad we're finally getting this money from the State, which we waited years for, but that'll help. And you know, we'll keep reducing the time for addressing heat issues.
You went already? I'm sorry.
Question: Can I ask you about the latest with the Rockefeller Center yesterday [inaudible] –
Mayor: When we have a plan, you'll hear about it. There's just nothing new yet to tell you.
Mayor: Yes, it is.
Wait, you went already. Who has not gone? Let me – I'm sorry, I should have just said it. Who has not gone? Go –
Question: So, the State Health Department put out a report last month that said that thyroid cancer rates were 69 percent higher on Staten Island compared to the rest of the boroughs. And when they went out and talked to Staten Islanders, they said that they felt like the State has been ignoring them, ignoring all these environmental hazards. And I know it's the City Health Department is putting out a report in the coming weeks. And Joe Borelli said, commended the advisory board that you put him on to talk more about that. And I was hoping you could kind of give some insights and what we can expect, with this report moving forward.
Mayor: Yeah, it's a real concern. And Dr. Barbot you want to join us and join into this answer? It’s a real concern. I mean I think that was a shocking fact to see that. And it does suggest that there was something missed here that has to be addressed and we're going to do everything we can. Can you speak to what we know so far?
Commissioner Barbot: So we're working closely with the State on this and it's not clear what the potential underlying reasons are and we continue to look into it. We have met with staff and members of, as I mentioned, the State as well as Staten Island. And we will have more information hopefully soon.
Question: [Inaudible] report’s coming out?
Commissioner Barbot: It should be very soon, but I don't have a specific date off the top of my head.
Mayor: Who has not gone, not gone, back there?
Question: Since you didn't answer my other question.
Mayor: You get a new one.
Question: The MTA is now asking the City, I guess to increase the amount that it's paying for Access-A-Ride, from 30 percent, the funding for Access-A-Ride, to 50 percent, which would be a total of $249 million. Is that something that the City is considering?
Mayor: We have got to have a blunt chat here about the MTA. There's a game going on here. It has to stop. The MTA does not have its own house in order. And we've been saying it time and time again. My appointees have been saying it. Let's stop playing around here. The MTA needs to fix its own problems before they ask constantly for more money. They're not using the money they have effectively. There’s supposed to be a full audit that tells us what's working, what's not. We haven't seen that yet. They're supposed to ensure that before they ask New York City for more money, they actually use all the money we gave them already. We gave them $2.5 billion a few years ago for Capital. They haven't used it. We gave money for the Subway Action Plan. We obviously worked with them to get congestion pricing done. That's tens of billions of dollars.
I mean, come on. So, you know, fix the MTA and the way it is managed, I guarantee you on something like Access-A-Ride, which has been a disaster. Boy when I do my town hall meetings, it didn't, didn't happen last night, but it has happened in many, many others. It's one of the number one complaints in this city because it's arcane and it's very poorly managed by the MTA. So I think if the State of New York wants to own up to the responsibility, they would modernize Access-A-Ride, we believe they could find a lot of savings. We've been encouraging using a handicap accessible yellow cabs, green cabs. Let's fix the problem and use the money we have now well, before asking for more money all the time. That's my answer. Oh wait. Who has not gone, not gone, not gone? Last call on not gone and I'll give the last – I’ll get you, I’m in the middle of saying who hasn't gone. Okay.
Mayor: You what? Oh, I'm sorry you went before? I thought you did. Go ahead.
Question: Now I have two questions.
Mayor: [Inaudible] You are going to use your moral standing now.
Question: I'm going to follow up on the MTA thing, because you're asking, you're telling, you know, telling the MTA to get its act together. But you're also asking them to figure out this street vending stuff. So how are [inaudible] are people who were worried about that supposed to trust the MTA?
Mayor: This is not complex stuff. I use the example that they already do this with the musicians. It's not like – it's not incredibly hard. It's like just they, they have really finite space because a lot of places it wouldn't work. I'm saying figure out in your subway stations where you have space that would work, delineate those spaces and have a process for people getting a permit. And well, if that's food, our Health Department will get involved et cetera. We'll show them how to do it. But, no, the bigger point is not about something as simple as giving a permit to a vendor. The bigger point is about how they spend billions and billions of dollars or misspend. I mean, remember these are the same people – City of New York's got our problems. We don't have East Side Access. Okay. I'm proud to say whatever mistakes the City of New York has made recently, nothing compares to the massive overspending and the madness of the East Side Access issue. So no this is an agency that should clean up its own house. We have helped them, we remain open to helping them. But first, fix the problem, do the audit, use the money you've already been given. By the way, another part of this is we agreed to tens of billions of dollars with congestion pricing, use that money first before you ask for more money. Hey, we'll work with them, but we need some fair ground rules here.
Question: [inaudible] one of your favorites, hypothetical.
Mayor: It's not fake news but it's a fake question?
Question: You are, you're talking about all the reasons why Michael Bloomberg should not be the nominee that the party needs at this time. You've been Mayor of New York for the last six and a half years.
Mayor: Six years.
Question: I'm sorry again. [Inaudible]
Mayor: You gave me an extra half year, go ahead. It feels like six and a half years.
Question: It feels like ten.
Mayor: I feel your pain.
Question: It sounds like you could perhaps –
Mayor: [Inaudible] impossible for Gloria to finish her question. Everyone just start offering a joke and it will degenerate. Go ahead.
Question: It sounds like you could make a good surrogate to get that message out there. You were on the campaign trail. Would you like to be a surrogate for any of the candidates or have you been approached? I mean, someone like perhaps Elizabeth Warren who was talking about why it would be so bad to have someone like a Bloomberg be the nominee for the party? Would you be interested in doing that kind of work? Is that something you're, hoping you’ll get asked?
Mayor: Look, again, I think one, certainly when our party determines the nominee, I want to do anything and everything that nominee wants me to do to help get them elected. I'm not going to go into conversations with different candidates. Various people have reached out. I'm not going to go into what that means. If I have something to say at some point, I will say it. But, no, I just think it's important to think about what today's Democratic Party is. And I'll, you know, you've heard what I've said about Joe Biden. I respect him. If he's the nominee, I'll support him. I don't think he fits today's Democratic Party. And I don't think Michael Bloomberg does either. So, you know, that's my view. But we'll see where all this goes, how I can help, certainly the eventual nominee.
Mayor: That's all I have to say on it. Go ahead.
Question: Going back to secession – would you be more receptive to this effort if it were being spearheaded by say a Democrat? And do you think that it's a nonstarter as this moves forward in the State Legislature and City Council?
Mayor: I think it's wrong. I mean, I just think, I think you're talking about one city. We've been one city for a long time. We are a city, where – we're the most prosperous we've ever been, literally at the strongest economy, the most jobs we've ever had. We are the safest. We've been since the 1950’s. There's tremendous opportunity here. I think Staten Island is part of us and we're part of Staten Island. We should all stay together. It's as simple as that. I just think we're at a point where the, there were real issues in the past. I think some of them have been addressed. There's more work to be done, but I just believe we should stay one city. Simple as that
Question: What do have to say to the fact that this effort is being revived mostly in part because Staten Island leaders are upset by your leadership when it comes to Staten Island?
Mayor: I don’t think that's what's really going on. I think, you know, we're talking about an effort was made years ago. It bluntly, there was a lot of political opportunism then. Nothing came of it. I think there's political opportunism now and I don't think anything's going to come of it in the end because I think we are one city and I think Staten Islanders are so deeply connected to the rest of the city in so many ways. And as we're learning in Great Britain, separation comes with a lot of problems. I think staying together, let's just stay together. That's my message.
Thank you, everybody.