How City Hall is Helping the Unhoused

Gary Jenkins is commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services and MEA Member. Story from New York Daily News by Gary Jenkins and Brenda Rosen. May 1.

We are at a crossroads in our nation when it comes to homelessness. Here in New York City, we have a moral — and legal — obligation to help and shelter our most vulnerable as they get back on their feet and start on a new path with dignity and respect. Under the leadership of the mayor, we are proactively helping the unsheltered homeless community and meeting them with care and compassion as we continue to offer them needed services and shelter.

Advocates for the unsheltered, who oppose our efforts to remove homeless encampments where homeless people bed down in public spaces and connect those individuals to shelter and other assistance, say the solution to unsheltered homelessness is providing transitional and permanent housing opportunities with mental health supports. We agree — and it is exactly what we are doing. As the commissioner of the largest social services agency in the nation and a leading non-profit provider in this space, we always ask our staff to treat our clients as they would like to be treated when facing tough times.

Our efforts are not about cleaning the streets and having those experiencing homelessness move from one place to the next. Recently, Mayor Adams announced a historic $170 million-plus investment in the budget to fund 1,400 low-barrier Safe Haven and stabilization beds, bringing the total of beds to more than 4,000 as well as adding additional drop-in centers where clients can do laundry, shower and get a hot meal. These low-barrier beds allow us to address the unique needs of unsheltered homeless clients — such as harm-reduction services, mental health and medical services and a flexible intake process.

This investment — the largest made by any administration ever — will also provide high-quality services and resources for the unsheltered. Every day, our outreach teams wake up and make the choice to help their neighbors gain access to necessary services and shelter. As providers and social service staff, we gain trust with our most vulnerable communities. We all work together to address the unique needs of every client and to ultimately place them in long-term housing.

That’s what the Adams administration has been doing from Day One: working to bring these critical resources to New Yorkers suffering the indignity of having to live on the streets and subways, and ensuring they receive the proper medical and mental health services they so desperately need. Advocates who suggest our work is designed to make life hard on the homeless couldn’t be more wrong.

So far, the administration has connected nearly 800 clients to services and shelter across the city — and every day, our outreach workers are in the subways and on the streets to not only tell our unsheltered clients about the services and shelter offered, but also connect them to our nonprofit providers so they can spend one less night on the streets.

Additionally, the 500 low-barrier beds that were promised as part of the mayor’s Subway Safety Plan are on track to be fully available, ahead of schedule, in order to offer our clients a safe, clean place to rest their heads, get help, and help them transition to permanent housing. Once all these beds come online, we will have a number of low-barrier beds available to serve and support some of our most vulnerable neighbors that surpasses the current number of clients currently believed to be experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

In partnership with fellow non-profit service providers, Breaking Ground is living the values outlined by this administration as we approach the necessary solutions to help our clients: compassionate outreach, expanding interim housing options for people who are living on the streets, and accelerating placements to permanent supportive and affordable housing where each individual can overcome homelessness and live with dignity. We are proud to work together to provide high-quality care to our unsheltered neighbors.

Accepting a status quo where thousands of our neighbors sleep on the streets and subways every night is a moral failure and an indictment of our society, not of these individuals. The challenge of unsheltered homelessness has long been intractable. The time for idle chatter has long passed. With this addition to our existing and extensive outreach efforts, we are taking action to do what is right — helping New Yorkers experiencing unsheltered homelessness get the services they deserve.

Every New Yorker is entitled to dignity and respect. Every New Yorker also deserves a sanitary city with clean streets. We must come together to help uplift our fellow New Yorkers who have fallen on hard times. Every night a New Yorker spends off the streets is a win for the entire city.