NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER UNVEILS PLAN TO ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS CRISIS

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[Homelessness\Affordable Housing]
Catherine Trapani, Executive Director, Homeless Services United, Inc: “Homelessness is a complex multifaceted problem that can only be solved with a comprehensive strategy. We need to break down silos and address the root cause of the issue."
Photo: Facebook

The problem of homelessness must be addressed by government legislation since serious structural change is needed to create real affordable humanitarian housing options.

In recognition of the continuing crisis of homelessness in our City, Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday unveiled a new report that includes nearly 90 recommendations aimed at preventing homelessness, increasing access to permanent housing, and enhancing support for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.

The Council worked with over a hundred of stakeholders and advocates for 18 months to create this comprehensive, long-term vision to address one of our City’s longest running issues.

For too long, the City’s focus has been on simply managing this crisis, but we need more than short-term solutions. This plan, which includes feedback from more than 100 advocates, calls for prioritizing permanent housing and preventing homelessness from occurring.

Among the Council’s recommendations are:

  • A pilot program for families with children to target people earlier in the housing instability spectrum; currently, HomeBase, the city’s homelessness prevention program, primarily provides services only to families at imminent risk, like those who have received an eviction notice. Earlier intervention is key.
  • More support for seniors at risk of homelessness. Our senior population is expected to rise by more than 165% by 2030. Recommendations include creating housing ambassadors and utilizing senior centers to reach at-risk seniors before they end up in the shelter system. Currently, outreach to this vulnerable population is inadequate.
  • Solutions to address the barriers to the development of supportive housing, including community opposition, by establishing a Council unit dedicated to working with communities to address concerns.
  • Enhanced aftercare programs to give people transitioning from shelter to permanent housing the supports they need. Too often, households who leave shelter for permanent housing return to a City shelter. Aftercare programs are tailored to keep people in permanent housing, including tenant support. In FY 2019, nearly one in five single adults and nearly 1 in 10 families with children returned to DHS shelter within a year.
  • A safe haven system with adequate staffing and model budgets, as well as a bed for every chronic street homeless individual. Safe Havens are targeted to the chronic street homeless, and help people move inside by having a lower barrier of entry than traditional homeless shelters.
  • Tools for street outreach teams to bring individuals inside, including intensive mental health teams dedicated to street homelessness and the flexibility to bypass City bureaucracy; currently, there are no mental health teams specifically dedicated to street homelessness.
  • A comprehensive medical respite system that tracks the number of medically homeless and addresses their short- and long-term housing needs, to end the revolving door from hospitals to homelessness. Currently, there is no system to deal with this high needs population. There’s currently just one program with 12 beds. That is not enough for our City.
  • Enhanced staffing, investments in infrastructure, and tailored services to support the unique needs of those in the shelter system for Runaway and Homeless Youth.
  • Creation of a Deputy Mayor of Homelessness and Housing to integrate housing and homelessness policies and streamline coordination.

This report is also calling on the State to do more to address this crisis. First and foremost, state lawmakers must pass legislation to increase the amount of money that people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are given to find housing. Currently, rental assistance is absurdly low and leaves many unable to find a place they can afford. For example, the current vouchers only allow for a maximum of $1,580 to be spent on a two bedroom. That should be increased to the fair market rate of $1,951.

Raising the vouchers to a level that people can actually use is a smart investment, and aligns with the Council’s priority for smarter spending to deal with this crisis. Housing a family of four in a shelter costs $5,900. Our shelters are so full that we are also housing people in hotels. That same family of four costs $8,223 a month in a hotel. That same spending could cover over five years of rent for an apartment, which is a more stable, less traumatic housing option. If the State continues to abdicate its responsibility, the City should establish a program to increase rental assistance.

State lawmakers must also pass legislation to assist individuals, before they are released from State prison, to secure housing. Over half – 53% – of those released from the state prison population ends up in a DHS shelter. In addition, we also need significant federal investments in affordable housing to deal with this crisis. This not a crisis the City can handle on its own. The State and federal government must step up.

Everyone wants a home and everyone wants to experience the enormous possibilities of living in the greatest city in the world," said City Council Speaker Johnson. "But, for approximately 80,000 of our fellow New Yorkers, realizing those possibilities is complicated by the experience of homelessness. This report is a serious attempt to combat this crisis with concrete proposals and a long-term vision. These are not just aspirational goals. These are feasible policies that will work to help prevent homelessness, increase pathways to permanent housing, and support our neighbors experiencing homelessness. Housing stability is at the core of every person’s success, and we must fight for every New Yorker to have this right.”

We are in the midst of a homelessness crisis," said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the Council's General Welfare Committee. "The report being released today is a giant leap towards the systemic change that is required to ensure we are best serving those in need and meaningfully move people out of shelter and into permanent housing. I want to thank Speaker Corey Johnson and his staff for their tireless work on this comprehensive report and his commitment to tackling this difficult issue — I look forward working closely with the Speaker’s office to enact these critical changes.”

“I am extremely grateful to Speaker Corey Johnson for including the passage of Home Stability Support (HSS, A1620/S2375) as a top priority in his report on homelessness released today," said Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi. "For too long our State has punted the responsibility to address this growing crisis to the City when in reality, homelessness affects every corner of New York State. A statewide problem of this magnitude requires a statewide solution. I thank the City Council for their partnership in fighting to pass HSS and for the progress they made recently which requires developers seeking city subsidies for large projects to set aside 15% of the units for the homeless. There is no one solution to addressing this crisis, I applaud the Speaker and his staff for the comprehensive recommendations outlined in this report.”

Several Housing advocates commented on the report and recommendations.

“Homelessness is a complex multifaceted problem that can only be solved with a comprehensive strategy," said Catherine Trapani, Executive Director, Homeless Services United, Inc. "We need to break down silos and address the root cause of the issue while planning for the long term viability of the safety net. Regardless if one is experiencing chronic street homelessness, struggling as they are shuttled from prison to hospitals or other institutions, is a victim of domestic violence or, is a young adult, senior, or parent struggling to make ends meet – each person experiencing or at risk of homelessness deserves access to comprehensive, trauma informed services, rental assistance and housing. The Speaker’s plan outlined in this report was informed by experts from across the city who understand the unique needs of all of these groups and lays out a vision where all people experiencing or at risk of homelessness have access to the specialized services they need to thrive. The plan builds upon our successes with prevention and improving shelter services and also offers innovative solutions to better coordinate care, reach more people at risk of shelter entry and, create new permanent housing opportunities. Homeless Services United is grateful to Speaker Johnson and the talented City Council staff for all of the hard work that went in to crafting this report and look forward to partnering with the team to implement these solutions.”

Thank you to Speaker Johnson and the City Council for creating a set of recommendations that addresses our City’s crises of homelessness and affordable housing from a holistic perspective," said Fredrick Shack, Chief Executive Officer of Urban Pathways. "It will take a multi-faceted plan that addresses all aspects of homelessness, from preventing eviction, to expanding street solutions, to ensuring the availability of safe, affordable housing and supportive services in order to fully address the crisis currently being faced. Urban Pathways applauds the comprehensive approach being put forth today and looks forward to working with the Speaker in the coming months to help implement the proposed recommendations.”

“I am proud of the work we’ve done with Speaker Johnson and the City Council to address homelessness in our city," said Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, community leader of VOCAL-NY. "But even with recent policy changes and progress we’ve made, we know there is more work to do. Speaker Johnson has long sided with homeless New Yorkers, and today he is renewing his commitment to fight for us. In the absence of a comprehensive City plan to end homelessness, the Speaker is proposing a multi-agency plan to provide services and housing for people. I am proud to stand with the Speaker and our allies today and I will keep fighting until every New Yorker is housed.

We are excited to see the Council, under the leadership of Speaker Johnson, standing up for what is needed and what people experiencing homelessness in this city deserve with the release of the 'Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case for Change' report," said Jaime Powlovich, Executive Director, Coalition for Homeless Youth. "By moving past bandaid solutions to homelessness, the City Council is laying a platform for what systematic changes are needed to truly address this ongoing crisis. This is especially heartening for homeless youth, who are often left out of such far-reaching reforms.” 

“Coalition for the Homeless commends Speaker Johnson for developing this comprehensive and thoughtful plan, which acknowledges the root cause of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing," said Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless. "The plan’s recommendations are strong and include a comprehensive mix of expanding access to housing, preventing homelessness, improving emergency shelter systems, and increasing resources for homeless New Yorkers living on the street. We strongly echo the Council’s call for Albany to pass Home Stability Support, which would help thousands of vulnerable families across New York State move out of shelters and into homes of their own, and prevent evictions and other causes of housing instability that drive record numbers of families to seek shelter every year.” 

With the population of homeless seniors expected to grow from 2,600 to 6,900 individuals by 2030 without significant intervention, LiveOn NY is pleased to see City Council, under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, taking significant steps to both understand the root causes of homelessness and create recommendations to address it moving forward," said Allison Nickerson, Executive Director of LiveOn NY. "We look forward to delving into this substantial report and coming together as a City to address homelessness among individuals of all ages once and for all.”

Having access to safe and affordable housing should be a basic human right," said JoAnne Page, President andCEO of The Fortune Society. "But, for thousands of justice-involved individuals, this is a right too often denied. For those we serve at The Fortune Society, decent housing is one of the major factors that contributes to successful reentry into the community, promotes stability and reduces recidivism. Breaking down the barriers that prevent people with criminal histories from having decent places to live will not only address our City’s homeless crisis, but it will make our communities safer. We are proud to stand with City Council Speaker Johnson and the many organizations that worked to develop this comprehensive plan.”

“Speaker Corey Johnson’s thorough plan and extensive recommendations provide a comprehensive roadmap to improve the lives of homeless New Yorkers. His recommendations — like his call to expand aftercare and to redevelop shelters in need of repair — show that he has his eyes on short term improvements and a long term vision to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis,” said Ted Houghton, President, Gateway Housing.

We commend Speaker Johnson’s commitment to prioritizing the homeless crisis and putting forth thoughtful strategies to help remedy this unprecedented problem. It is urgent that the State pass the Home Stability Support bill this year and that we implement comprehensive policies at the federal, state, and city level in order to truly support our homeless clients and all individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” said Joshua Goldfein. Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society.

We applaud the Speaker for his robust and comprehensive plan to reduce homelessness in New York City by enlisting the support of federal and State partners to support stronger prevention efforts and more affordable housing," said Carol Corden, Executive Director of New Destiny Housing on behalf of the Family Homelessness Coalition. "The proposed plan goes a long way to address the needs of homeless families, who make up almost 70% of New York’s shelter population. Specifically, the plan recognizes that domestic violence is a leading driver of family homelessness in New York and recommends prevention and post-shelter initiatives that can contribute to the long-term safety and stability of domestic violence survivors. The Speaker’s plan to evaluate chronic absenteeism from school as an indicator for homelessness is also an important step forward to ensure at-risk families are identified early and children and caregivers receive supports as soon as possible. The plan’s recommendation to increase the value of rental assistance vouchers is a critical way to keep families housed. We look forward to working with Speaker Johnson and the City Council to advance this plan and stand ready to advocate for legislation and budgetary resources needed to effectively combat homelessness.”

We applaud Speaker Corey Johnson and the New York City Council for its commitment to addressing the crisis of homelessness in our city," said Eric B. Rosenbaum, President and CEO of Project Renewal. "The Council’s comprehensive plan includes critical investments in programs, services and policies that are proven to prevent homelessness, or to help those who are experiencing homelessness to get back on their feet and into housing. This investment will provide Project Renewal and our fellow homeless service providers with critical new support and resources we need to help our clients overcome the complex challenges they face on the path to stability and independence.”

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