Mayor discusses homeless crisis at town hall
by Patrick Kearns
Mar 14, 2017 | 2571 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Just one week after releasing his comprehensive plan to combat New York City’s homeless crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a town hall with residents at P.S. 23 in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Much of the discussion throughout the evening centered around the homeless plan and the city’s proposal to build a new shelter for 106 homeless men in nearby Crown Heights.

De Blasio explained that 35 years earlier the homeless crisis began with the de-institutionalization of individuals with mental health problems, but transformed during the recession.

“The Great Recession very tragically changed the nature of homelessness,” the mayor said. “Homelessness became first and foremost about families, including a stunning number of working families who could no longer afford the rent in a city where the price of housing had gone up, but wages had not.”

De Blasio’s plan includes moving homeless families out of hotels and cluster apartments as temporary solutions, and instead placing them in shelters in their existing community.

He warned that progress will be slow on addressing the problem, but ultimately there would be a drop of 45 percent in the number of buildings housing the homeless.

Borough President Eric Adams spoke at the meeting and criticized the plan, inviting residents to help him develop an alternative solution.

“We have been over-saturated with homeless shelters,” Adams said. “I’m asking some of you to come join me at Borough Hall and let’s come up with our own community plan of how we deal with the homeless that we do have.

“How do we improve their life?” he added. “How do we put them on the roadmap of finally having a home and the respect and dignity that comes with it?”

Rick Bruner, who lives about two blocks from the shelter at 1173 Bergen Street set to open this month, noted that it’s just blocks from the Bedford Atlantic Armory shelter and another that may open on the north side of Atlantic Avenue.

While all three facilities are in different zip codes, they are within a small radius of a few blocks.

“We feel that these communities already significantly over serve relative to other parts of Brooklyn,” he said.

De Blasio noted that in the past shelters were opened in response to crisis, and the locations clearly have not worked. His plan is to keep people in their communities, especially kids near their schools.

“I think it’s common sense,” de Blasio said. “If you come from Brooklyn, why are we putting you in a shelter in Queens or the Bronx?”

In addition to creating more shelters, a part of the systemic issues surrounding homelessness in New York City is the lack of affordable housing.

While the de Blasio administration has been ambitious in its quest to build more housing, some feel it still isn’t enough or hasn’t been implemented well.

Bed-Stuy resident Joe Gonzalez feels that the underutilized Floyd Bennett Field would be a perfect place to build more housing.

“It’s at least 1,000 acres, probably a lot more, of New York-owned land,” Gonzalez said. “It looks quite empty to me every time I go down there.”

While de Blasio said he loves the idea of creating new high-quality public housing, but there are general issues due to economics, as well as a number of challenges with Floyd Bennett Field specifically.

“I think we have a challenge whenever some place is isolated, that if you’re going to build housing you also have to create a whole infrastructure,” he added.

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