As he readies himself for reelection this coming year, Mayor de Blasio is looking to address the city’s surging homeless population. Just this week, the city reported a record 60,686 New Yorkers in shelters, nearly 40 percent of whom are children. This number was closer to 51,470 when de Blasio took office in 2014, and despite the $1.6 billion he’s spent on homeless services since this time (a 60 percent increase), the shelter system still can’t support the growing population. Therefore, as the Times explains, he’s looking to ramp up a controversial initiative that uses hotel rooms to fill in the gaps, earmarking more than 500 additional rooms for this portfolio.
According to the Times:
On Jan. 1, the city was using 508 hotel rooms for homeless families with children, comprising 1,237 people, according to the Department of Homeless Services. On Nov. 30, 2,418 rooms were being rented for families with children, amounting to 5,798 people.
The new initiative will earmark 436 rooms for families. 225 of these will be reserved for those without minor children, the first time this group is being singled out. Additionally, at least 100 more rooms will be set aside for homeless individuals.
Some are critical of the plan, however, since de Blasio previously vowed to “curtail the practice,” specifically after a homeless woman and her two children were fatally stabbed while staying in a Staten Island hotel where the city placed them when it had no space in a shelter. At the time the Mayor said, “The goal is to use hotels less and less and eventually stop using hotels altogether… the goal in the short term is to reduce the use of hotels intensely.” Other criticisms include the fact that hotel rooms have no kitchens, lack privacy, and are often far from schools.
Homeless services spokesman David Neustadt notes that the practice is part of an effort to phase out cluster housing, another type of homeless housing in which non-profit groups enter contract with the city to rent out apartments as temporary shelters. This, too, has been controversial, as it reduces the number of affordable apartments on the market and makes it difficult to deliver services when the units are scattered around the city. Yesterday, two young girls died when a radiator exploded in the Bronx cluster apartment they were staying in.
City comptroller Scott M. Stringer–who this week approved the city’s request for emergency spending to increase the hotel rooms, despite his “deep misgivings” about the approach–says that it costs an average of $6,570 a month to house a family in a hotel, as compared with $2,740 for a cluster apartment.
But as temperatures continue to drop, mayor spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis said, “There’s no doubt that hotels are not ideal for homeless New Yorkers, but until we get citywide acceptance that more shelters are needed, hotels remain the only short-term option for keeping many New Yorkers off the streets.”
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