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Can We Solve Homelessness?

Can We Solve Homelessness?
Over the past decade, New York City's homeless problem has gotten worse and worse. Nearly 40,000 people sleep in New York City shelters every night, a figure that has nearly doubled in just five years. In 2004, the Bloomberg Administration launched a comprehensive new plan for combating homelessness, with the goal of reducing the number of New Yorkers without a place to live by 2/3 over the next five years.

The plan, titled "Uniting for Solutions Beyond Shelter," emphasizes prevention. Up until now, the lion's share of what the city spends on homelessness has gone towards building and maintaining shelters. The mayor's plan seeks to redirect those resources towards new policies and programs that will work to keep families and individuals from ever becoming homeless and entering the shelter system.

Highlights of the multi-faceted plan include:

  • The opening of six new community centers providing legal services, job training, and advocacy for individuals and families at risk of being evicted from their homes.

  • A data-tracking system that is designed to reach into neighborhoods to pinpoint city blocks and even apartment buildings where those at risk of becoming homeless are living.

  • Improved interagency coordination between hospitals, mental health facilities, and prisons to help those leaving these institutions from ending up homeless.

  • A new enrollment process for homeless families entering the shelter system.

  • The building of 12,000 supportive housing units for homeless individuals who are mentally ill or drug users.

  • A new rental assistance program to help homeless people pay for their own apartments.

  • By focusing on prevention, the city is doing what many activists have been urging since the 1980's. But some homeless advocates such as Mary Brosnahan Sullivan of the Coalition for the Homeless think the mayor's plan is a mixed bag. Sullivan worries that taking money out of the shelter system will ultimately force more people out onto the streets. She's also critical of Housing Stability Plus, the new rental assistance program, meant to fill the void left by the dwindling supply of federally-funded Section 8 vouchers. Unlike Section 8, the new program phases out over five years, which Sullivan argues will drive people right back into the shelter system.

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    Solving Homelessness
    A look at the Mayor's five-year plan to dramatically reduce homelessness.
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    View this storyThe Commissioner
    Linda Gibbs of the Department of Homeless Services discusses the thinking behind the mayor's plan.
    Interview: Mary Brosnahan Sullivan
    The director of the Coalition for the Homeless voices her criticisim of the city's new approach.
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