Mayor Finally Admits:
There is Homeless Problem
City Acknowledges New Homeless Taskforce
By David Greene
BRONX, NEW YORK (BRONX NEWS)- The half dozen homeless people who sleep on park benches along Jerome Avenue, near East Gun Hill Road in Norwood were unaware when asked about the city's new homeless outreach program, acknowledged by city officials nearly three-weeks after the program quietly began.
The city has so far identified 80 homeless encampments across the five boroughs and has begun to dismantle them, as trained professionals from nine city agencies attempt to assist some of the homeless who have apparently refused the city's invitation at city-run shelters.
The City of New York estimates that 56,000 individuals are currently homeless and being housed in city shelters throughout the five boroughs. An additional 3,000 are living on the city streets and the new program that began on August 17, is seeking to reduce that number.
Jerome Avenue was not identified as an encampment because the closely-knit group has built no structures, and those who sleep there do so in the daytime, when families gather inside of Van Cortlandt Park, when they say they feel safest.
They speak of a need to sleep in the daytime, in order to stay awake at night, so they can protect themselves and each other from attack or theft of the few belongings they still have.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently said of the current situation, "The laws have changed in the last 20 years, when I was here the last time (and) the tools I had to work with," adding that panhandling is no longer considered a crime.
The NYPD's Chief of Patrol, Carlos Gomez, explained that when a unit goes to dismantle an encampment, members of the NYPD, EMS, Homeless Services, Sanitation, Parks, Transportation, Housing, Environmental Protection and the city's Legal Department will also be on hand to provide whatever assistance they can.
Gomez added, "Offering outreach and services is the main thrust, the main goal of this plan."
City officials also revealed that since the program was implemented, 161 homeless people were taken off the street and offered shelter and other services. However, only 10 individuals took the city up on its offer--with the rest apparently headed back into the streets.
"Mohammad" a homeless man who has called the park benches along Jerome Avenue home for the last three-months, recalled trying a city shelter, explaining, "I tried the shelter on Third Avenue, but it wasn't safe. And I feel like Norwood has become my home."
Speaking on his weekly radio program on WNYC on September 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the crisis, "Clearly the numbers of folks in shelters shot up after 2011 and have remained very high, they would have gotten a lot higher, but for the efforts of a lot of people in this administration."
A day earlier Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, who was in charge with handling the current homeless crisis, stepped down from her $222,000 a year post to become chairwoman of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, an unpaid position. De Blasio denied Paoli had been demoted, insisting her stepping down was a "personal decision."
Meanwhile, the de Blasio Administration has reached out to local churches and synagogues seeking 500 'Safe Haven' beds that would be incorporated into the city's "Opening Doors" program. The city currently has more than 680 such beds that have fewer restrictions than a traditional shelter.
The city currently has $19.5 million allocated for the Safe Haven program and an additional $15.7 for the outreach program for the fiscal year 2016.