It’s easy to ignore things, and the same can go for people. Living in New York City, whether you’ve been here for only a few months or your whole life, ignoring people becomes an unfortunate part of life. Our eyes become accustomed to looking forward; we give an excuse instinctively, without breaking pace. Homelessness, however, is not an issue that we can ignore until it shuffles off. It’s a serious issue in our city that needs to be met, as Mayor Bill de Blasio promised when he took office in 2014.
In 2013, as mayor-elect, de Blasio said, “An ever-growing homeless population is unacceptable to the future of New York City. It will not happen under our watch.” Unfortunately, an increase in the homeless population has happened under de Blasio’s watch. While de Blasio’s long-term strategy has been to move families out of municipal shelters and into affordable housing, this does very little for the constant flow of families in and out of shelters. This plan only benefits some of the city’s homeless, as there are 57,448 people sleeping in municipal shelters, 40 percent of whom are children. No matter how many changes are made, it is impossible for the de Blasio administration to consider their policies a success while thousands of children sleep in shelters that, in some cases, provide subpar services to those in need.
While de Blasio’s administration has moved more than 38,000 people into permanent housing in the last fiscal year, other homeless people quickly take their place in shelters. However, the cyclical nature of this problem means that it cannot be solved by merely providing low-income housing: the city needs to address the underlying issues which put people on the street in the first place. In addition to these long-term efforts, the de Blasio administration should work on the short-term problem, improving quality of life both for those in shelters and those out on the streets, as well as increasing accessibility to mental health care and job training.
A majority of the homeless people in New York City are living with health issues, either mental or physical. The level of care that exists for these issues, especially those without health insurance, is abysmal. In the municipal shelter system, there needs to be a source for health care to address the serious issues among the homeless population. The dehumanization of the homeless in New York needs to end. Stigmas and barriers that separate the homeless from those of us lucky to have homes must be broken down, and the de Blasio administration needs to follow up on the promises it made back in 2013. A clear way for them to start lies in the implementation of programs that will not only make homelessness more bearable, but also less likely to happen.
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Email Patrick Seaman at [email protected]