Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Outreach NYC last week, which aims to address the city’s homelessness issue. The program encourages city workers to contact a command center when they see a homeless person on the street, which then dispatches teams that try to persuade homeless individuals to get off the streets and into city facilities. There are serious issues with this program, as it simply serves aesthetics and fails to pinpoint the root causes of homelessness in the city. Mayor de Blasio must stop sweeping New York’s homeless issue under the rug and provide significant initiatives that tackle the housing affordability crisis.
Temporarily placing homeless people in shelters can be dangerous. Even after the New York Police Department started overseeing the Department of Homeless Services, there have still been numerous cases of extreme violence and abuse in these facilities. In addition, a report from a DHS whistleblower shows a high amount of administrative corruption leads to incidents of abuse being covered up. Instead of using ineffective solutions, Mayor de Blasio must tackle the issue head-on by introducing city-wide housing initiatives for the homeless and prioritizing safer shelters for temporary stays.
Outreach NYC also relies heavily on the constant monitoring of the city’s homeless population by workers. In fact, Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that advocates for New York City’s homeless population, has said that the program is a tool for mass surveillance and a way to sweep the homelessness issue under the rug without addressing its foundational problems.
The program is only one instance in which the homeless have been closely surveilled. A recent example is the NYPD’s camera monitoring in more than a dozen subway stations. Rather than implement serious solutions to alleviate the causes of homelessness, the city would rather increase police presence and demonize homeless individuals themselves. Similarly, de Blasio’s homeless outreach program depends on reporting exactly where the homeless are and keeping track of them through the surveillance arm of city workers.
The Mayor has tried and failed in the past to implement this type of program. In 2016, Mayor de Blasio introduced HOME-STAT, which created outreach teams that try to give homeless people better services and housing. The program clearly failed as the implementation of the program has not had a significant effect on homelessness — the number of unsheltered homeless people increased substantially from 2016 to 2017 and only slightly decreased in 2018. Outreach NYC is just an extension of this failure, as it relies on using HOME-STAT teams to communicate directly with homeless individuals. The mayor must recognize this fact, and provide an alternative solution, rather than simply repackaging the failed policies of the past.
Instead of reusing an already failed outreach program, Mayor de Blasio must implement real solutions that target housing unaffordability in the city. Outreach NYC is just the city’s way of avoiding the issue to prevent real progressive policies from taking place.
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