Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his strategy for addressing the growing homelessness in New York City last Tuesday. Since de Blasio entered office in 2014, the homeless shelter population has increased from 53,000 to 60,000, according to the New York Times, and this upward trend shows no signs of abating anytime soon — our neighboring Washington Square Park perfectly exemplifies the magnitude of this crisis. During de Blasio’s first three years in office, the mayor ambitiously sought to drastically reduce the homeless shelter population. But his remarks on Feb. 28 were decidedly more moderate. His administration now seeks to shrink the homeless shelter population by only 2,500 people over five years — a decrease of less than one percent per year.
While de Blasio has come under fire from many liberals who have accused him of abandoning his bold progressive agenda, the mayor simply made a sober assessment that it is nearly impossible to end the crisis of homelessness. De Blasio decided that the city can only do a better job of managing it. His 300 million dollar plan to create 90 new homeless shelters and expand 30 existing ones, cited by the New York City Department of Homelessness, is a pragmatic and liberal solution for providing aid to New York City’s most vulnerable. This $300 million investment will also move homeless people out of shady motels and slummy apartments — leased to the New York City taxpayer for a substantial cost — and into more adequate shelters.
While the resistance of New Yorkers who want to keep these new shelters out of their neighborhoods is understandable, everyone must show a little compassion to the less fortunate and help bear the burdens of living in an obscenely expensive city. In the interest of fairness, these new shelters should not be concentrated entirely in poor neighborhoods of color but instead spread evenly throughout the city.
De Blasio’s tempered approach to seeking progress incrementally should be celebrated by liberals as a technique that could realistically make a difference, not criticized as insufficiently progressive. Progressivism should be about accomplishing progress, not about setting unachievable goals. Mayor de Blasio cannot be blamed for the roots of this crisis — he isn’t responsible for the greed of landlords or the often prohibitive price of real estate. Instead he should be praised for pursuing a plan to alleviate the problems associated with homelessness while government officials figure out a long-term solution to remedy the lack of affordable housing.
As the mayor sets about managing this problem in the short-term, he and Governor Andrew Cuomo must work together to find a realistic long-term solution. Only a coherent strategy for and long-term commitment to creating more affordable housing and reducing economic inequality can enable a permanent end to the homelessness crisis.
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