Mayor de Blasio announced a new homelessness outreach program this Thursday, just two days after Department of Homeless Services commissioner Gilbert Taylor stepped down. The initiative is called HOME-STAT—Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams—and entails daily canvassing of homeless populations in Manhattan, increasing homeless outreach staff, and upping the number of police officers on the NYPD's homeless outreach unit. HOME-STAT will be fully operational by March.
This is one of de Blasio's more concrete steps toward tackling the homelessness crisis he inherited from the Bloomberg Administration. There are currently nearly 58,000 individuals in the city's shelters, 23,432 of whom are children; last month, the mayor announced a $2.6 billion plan to move people from shelters into 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years.
The HOME-STAT initiative is meant to provide an accurate count of people living on the street, which the mayor currently estimates to be approximately 4,000; this count will be updated daily, and HOME-STAT will allow homeless outreach teams to respond within an hour when someone makes a call reporting a homeless person.
However, the details of the initiative, particularly the increase in police officers responding to 311 calls, make it unclear how much HOME-STAT is meant to help rather than hound the homeless.
In his announcement, de Blasio noted that though it is not illegal to be homeless, "it is illegal to harass New Yorkers, use drugs, erect a makeshift shelter, urinate in public, and commit other quality of life crimes." When pressed by PIX 11 this morning on whether HOME-STAT will lead to more arrests of homeless individuals, the mayor didn't give a clear answer, instead pivoting to talk about the city's Safe Havens initiative, which offers shelter in houses of worship to street homeless people who do not want to go to big shelters.
"When there’s law breaking, there’s law breaking—I don’t care who does it, we’re going to address law breaking, we’re going to enforce it," de Blasio told PIX11. "But also to look at when there’s law breaking, there’s a mental health problem, there’s a substance abuse problem."
In remarks following de Blasio's announcement on Thursday, Police Commissioner Bratton emphasized the role of the NYPD in HOME-STAT, the New York Times reports. He said that his department is seeking legislation that would modify city laws to make it illegal to panhandle within 10 feet of any ATM and that would allow police to remove homeless people from certain areas more easily — “if we are able to frame it in a way that the courts don’t overrule.”
The initiative has received a mixed response from homeless rights advocates: Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society’s Law Reform Unit, which frequently represents homeless people in lawsuits against the city, told the Times that while she welcomes the addition of more outreach workers, she is concerned about increased criminalization of homeless people.
Floyd Parks, a member of Picture the Homeless who currently lives on the street, echoed this sentiment.
"This new program won't help anyone," Parks said in a statement provided to Gothamist.
"The Mayor and the police commissioner are trying to show people they're doing something, to get the public off the back, but there's nothing to it ... except more surveillance and more police targeting homeless African-Americans and Hispanics," Parks charged. "We need housing. It's really simple."