On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “the most comprehensive street homeless outreach effort ever deployed in an American city.” The city estimates there are between three and four thousand people living on the street. The program will be called “HOME-STAT,” a reference to the NYPD’s COMPSTAT program.
Mr. de Blasio, speaking to a civic group in Manhattan, said he would employ a strategy similar to the CompStat program that the Police Department uses to map and respond to crime, greatly expanding the number of police officers in an unit focused on the homeless. He said calls about problems with homeless people would be answered within an hour or less.
A real-time daily public dashboard will track the city’s response to reports of homeless individuals, and Mr. de Blasio said that every Manhattan block from Canal to 145th Street would be canvassed on a daily basis by city workers.
In what appeared to be an unplanned announcement, Mr. de Blasio’s police commissioner, William J. Bratton, said after the speech that his department was examining legislation to modify city laws — “if we are able to frame it in a way that the courts don’t overrule” — so that police officers would have more leniency in ejecting homeless people from certain areas of the city.
That approach was at odds with Mr. de Blasio’s remarks, in which the mayor was careful to avoid the use of the word “arrest.” But the comments by Mr. Bratton emphasized the likely role that officers would play in putting the city’s plan into effect, including the possible arrest of some homeless people for minor crimes.
The mayor has been subject to criticism over his handling of the homelessness crisis: in addition to those living on the street, 57,998 people stayed in city shelters on Monday night, including 40,540 families with children.
“This is a problem that has built up over many years. It didn’t happen overnight,” the Human Resources Administration commissioner, Steve Banks, told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “If certain things other mayors had put in place were in place in the past, we’d be in a different place.” The commissioner of Homeless Services stepped down the day before.
The new program is scheduled to be up and running in March. If all goes according to plan, every single person living on the street will be assigned a caseworker.
“We’ll have the most up-to-date, specific data on the street population we’ve ever had,” De Blasio said, according to the New York Observer. “And we’ll perform rigorous analyses of that data to determine what people need, what’s working, and what’s not—helping us take important steps to keep street homelessness down in the future.”
Some housing advocates are skeptical, however, like Jesus Morales, a member of organizing group Picture the Homeless. “This new program is just more of the same,” Morales, who has lived on the street for more than 15 years, told Gawker through a PTH spokesperson.“More case workers, more cops—that does nothing for me. Meanwhile, the cops are treating homeless people like dirt, every day. That’s the problem the mayor needs to fix.”
“Just last night, hours right before this big announcement, I got woken up by a cop, kicking me. In the leg, in the back of the knee. I asked, ‘Why are you kicking me?’ They said, ‘Because you have to go.’ Didn’t offer me help, didn’t offer me anything. Kicked me, hard, and told me to go.”
“This happens every day. To all of us. To me and my brothers. People walk by me all day, every day, with big bags full of holiday shopping. Cops don’t say anything to them. To me, the cops say, ‘Why do you have all these bags? These bags have got to go.’ And they seize them, throw them away.”
“They need to help the homeless with something real—a place, a home, not a shelter. Not the street. So much money they waste, on cops and shelters. Shelters are no good. I’ve been robbed, the bathrooms are disgusting, there’s filth in the showers. They cost a lot, and they don’t help you get out of your situation. There’s so much development happening, but it’s not for us. It’s not for poor people, putting in these neighborhoods. People are dying out here. Find us housing.”