Homelessness has reached its highest level since the 1930s



In New York City today, homelessness has reached its highest level since the 1930s,[1] Over 80,000 NYC residents experience homelessness today, which is about one in every 106 NYC residents.[2] While the majority of homeless residents spend their nights in shelters, an estimated 3,857 people sleep on the subways and streets each night.[3] Overall, homelessness has nearly doubled over the past 10 years under the failed policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio.[4]

But let’s be real. Solving New York City’s homeless crisis is not an easy task. It will require a careful balance of compassion, good policy, and experience to deliver real improvement. As the only candidate that can strike that balance, I am the only mayoral candidate that can deliver real improvements to New York City’s homelessness issue. And with my “From Homeless to Housing Plan”, I will deliver real, tangible solutions to New York City.

Source: The Bowery Mission (https://www.bowery.org/homelessness/)

In the 1970s, I first began working with homeless individuals to understand their needs, help them secure food, and bring them to shelters. Over the past 40+ years, I have developed a strong understanding of the causes and policies surrounding New York City’s homelessness issue. The main causes of homelessness include mental illness, traumatic life events, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, violence, and domestic abuse. Experts on homelessness also acknowledge that virtually every homeless individual has endured some form of hardship or trauma that psychologically detaches them from society.[5]

From my first-hand experiences, along with consultations with policy experts, I have developed a five-step “From Homeless to Housing Plan” to address homelessness in New York City. My plan starts with compassionate solutions to help homeless individuals obtain mental, emotional, and housing support. My plan then presents homeless individuals with opportunities to begin work, to receive mentorship and guidance, and to re-enter society, as they take on greater personal responsibility. Ultimately, the goal of my plan is to assist homeless individuals in obtaining permanent housing and employment. My “From Homeless to Housing Plan” features five key policy proposals:

Develop Supportive Housing with On-Site Supportive Services

To remedy rising homelessness, it is imperative that NYC develops more supportive housing units with on-site supportive services. While NYC features myriad homeless shelters city-wide, these shelters are temporary bandages—and not permanent solutions to homelessness. In homeless shelters, homeless individuals lack privacy, security, and the ability to establish a real home. In turn, this impedes their ability to take on personal responsibility, upkeep hygiene, and pursue full-time employment. At the same time, homeless shelters lack the vital services needed to address the many mental, emotional, and health issues that typically plague homeless individuals. Unless homeless individuals receive requisite mental, emotional, and health services, they will be unable to pursue and obtain full-time employment, and in turn, unable to maintain permanent housing.

To finally set homeless individuals on the path to permanent housing and employment, New York City must develop new supportive housing units. By converting existing government properties and incentivizing private sector development, New York City can construct new housing communities for homeless individuals with on-site mental and health counselors. Under this program, each homeless individual will receive a “Mini-Homes” apartment unit within the development complex. Mini-Homes are small, single-unit studios that provide low-rent and safe housing options. Prospective Mini-Homes tenants will need to provide proof of employment (or proof that they are searching for employment) to qualify, and a portion of their income will be leveraged to help pay for the Mini-Homes apartment. Prospective residents will receive assistance in the employment application process and will be connected with a list of pre-approved employers. Each Mini-Homes complex will feature common spaces to promote community involvement and collaboration among residents, as well as on-site mental and health counselors.

Continued residency in Mini-Homes apartment complexes will be contingent upon employment search requirements, timely monthly payments (after obtaining employment), regular reporting to mental/health counselors, and community involvement evaluations (e.g., no arrests, engagement with fellow residents, cleanliness and maintenance of apartment complex, etc.)

In sum, this Mini-Homes supportive housing program will help homeless individuals obtain stable housing, provide them necessary on-site support, ease them into taking on greater personal responsibility, and help reintegrate them into the community at large.

Improve Homeless Shelter Safety and Capacity

While the majority of homeless individuals live in shelters each night, an estimated 3,857 people sleep on the subways and streets due to concerns over safety in homeless shelters.[6] In fact, the Coalition for the Homeless released an April 2021 study revealing that most homeless individuals surveyed “had been on the streets or subways for at least a year, afraid to go to shelters.”[7] This phenomenon of homeless individuals fearing homeless shelters is common across the City. In 2021 so far, over 357 arrests have been made in homeless shelters, including 115 felonies and 242 misdemeanors. Homeless shelters are hot beds for criminal activity, drug use, and violent altercations. This leads many homeless individuals to stay on the streets and subways, rather than seek refuge in shelters.

As NYC Mayor, I will improve safety and security in NYC homeless shelters to ensure that all homeless individuals feel safe staying in shelters. To this end, I will assign teams of police officers and social workers to each shelter. Social workers will take the lead in defusing non-violent altercations, while police officers will serve as criminal deterrents and step in when altercations escalate to violent levels. This dual approach will ensure that homeless individuals feel safe entering homeless shelters. In turn, this will decrease the number of homeless individuals sleeping on our subways and streets.

Along with improving safety in our shelters, I will expand shelter capacity and improve shelter services. New York City should have a shelter bed for every homeless individual to ensure that no person sleeps on our subways and streets. Additionally, every shelter should be well-supplied and well-maintained with meals, laundry facilities, showers, medicinal and mental care resources, recreation spaces, and other social services. As NYC Mayor, I will fully fund our homeless shelters, while creating programs to move homeless individuals from shelters to permanent housing.

Expand Mentorship and Enrichment Programs for Homeless Youth

It has been estimated that over 39,000 youth are homeless in New York City. Without a stable home or family, homeless youth are often forced to couch surf, sleep on subways and streets, and live in homeless shelters. At the root of youth homelessness are often domestic abuse issues and family financial crises. Once on the streets, homeless youth are more susceptible to engage in criminal activity. And thereafter, homeless youth fall into a cycle of criminal activity, substance abuse, and mental/emotional health disorders. It is time to end this cycle and get our New York City homeless youth the support that they need.

Currently, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) operates a number of services for runaway and homeless youth, including Drop-in Centers, Crisis Services Programs, Transitional Independent Living programs, and Street Outreach and Referral Services.[8] As NYC Mayor, I will ensure that the DYCD receives the requisite funding to house every homeless youth in NYC. Additionally, I will direct the DYCD to take more aggressive outreach action to ensure that every homeless youth can utilize DYCD service offerings. At the same time, I will create a dedicated “Youth Mentorship Department” within the DYCD that connects homeless youth with education and professional mentors to put these youth on the right education and professional track.

Assign Social Workers to High-Concentration Homeless Areas

Homeless individuals commonly congregate in high-traffic areas, like Penn Station and Times Square. This creates frequent interactions between homeless individuals and commuters, tourists, and police officers. While the majority of interactions are benign, some of these interactions escalate to the level of physical violence, verbal altercations, or criminal activity. Homeless individuals suffering from mental and emotional disorders disproportionately represent those engaged in these altercations. This puts homeless individuals, tourists, commuters, and police officers at risk. I have personally witnessed men and women being attacked by homeless individuals in train stations, on subway platforms, and in the streets.

To prevent these escalations, we must assign social workers to high-traffic areas to help homeless individuals address their mental and emotional disorders. While on assignment, social workers should also identify homeless individuals in need of medication, medical evaluations, and more intensive care at psychiatric facilities. The assignment of social workers to these high-concentration areas will help homeless individuals receive the help they need and deliver more safety and security to New York City’s high-traffic areas.

Expand Employment Programs for Homeless Individuals

The end goal of my “From Homeless to Housing Plan” is to help homeless individuals secure permanent housing and employment. To help homeless individuals obtain employment, I will fully fund NYC’s Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless (ACE). Since 1992, ACE has assisted over 2,500 homeless New Yorkers obtain full-time employment and housing. ACE provides vocational rehabilitation and workforce support to homeless individuals, ultimately culminating in fulltime employment opportunities.

Following the model of ACE, I will work with the NYC Department of Homeless Services to develop more homeless-to-employment services. Homeless individuals often maintain the desire to work and reintegrate into society. They just need the opportunities. To help homeless individuals reach these goals, we should provide them with the requisite skills training, professional guidance, and professional resources. After obtaining employment, homeless individuals will be able to secure permanent housing and break the cycle of poverty.