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Cuomo Criticized for Saying City Needs to Do More to Fight Homelessness

By  Jeff Mays and Danielle Tcholakian | September 2, 2015 7:25pm | Updated on September 3, 2015 7:44am

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo was criticized for saying the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to do more to fight homelessness.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was criticized for saying the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to do more to fight homelessness.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Homelessness is a major problem in New York City and City Hall should spend more to tackle the problem, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

“If you walk around New York City, I think it's hard not to conclude that the city has a serious homeless problem," Cuomo said at an unrelated press conference after a speech at New York University.

The criticism comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio is dealing with controversy over an increased homeless population and the resignation of his highly regarded deputy mayor in charge of homeless services, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

De Blasio has previously blamed media coverage for the perception that homelessness is on the rise and has also faulted the administration of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, for cutting a key rental subsidy that led to an increase in the city's shelter population.

But speaking Tuesday on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor acknowledged the problem.

"Yes, there is something real going on here," said de Blasio, who also called homelessness in the city "both a perception and a reality problem."

The city's shelter population is at roughly 56,000 people, down from a high of 59,000 in December. There were about 53,000 people in shelters when Bloomberg left office.

Calls to 311 about the homeless have jumped 60 percent since de Blasio took office 20 months ago.

Cuomo, who has engaged in a long-running public feud with de Blasio, said the state is doing its part to help with the problem.

“The state has invested heavily in services for the homeless and in affordable housing," Cuomo said. “It's a major problem and it’s a serious problem.”

City Hall and housing and homeless advocates said Cuomo's comments were simply wrong.

De Blasio spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said the "state is going backwards in its support of New York City’s homeless," especially those who are mentally ill.

"We’ve consistently increased funding to make up for gaps left by state cuts, and we need the state to increase the number of units of supportive housing for mentally ill New Yorkers in need," she added.

De Blasio has criticized a Cuomo plan to cut the number of units that are part of a supportive housing initiative known as NY/NY.

Homeless and housing advocates had requested 35,000 units of supportive housing statewide over the next several years with an expansion to help families, homeless youth and domestic violence victims. About 25,000 of those units would have been in the city.

Cuomo proposed a total of 5,000 units statewide, 3,900 of which would have been in the city.

A 2013 analysis from the city's Health Department found that the supportive housing units reduced public spending on shelters, incarceration, hospital and psychiatric care by more than $10,000 per unit.

The program also provided stability, reducing homelessness 47 percent among single adults in the first five years. More than 75 percent remained housed after two years.

The state also requires the city to pay 50 percent of operating costs for mental health services while reducing the amount of money it spends for housing for people with HIV/AIDS, emergency shelters for families and adult shelters.

Housing and homeless advocates also said the state needs to do more.

“Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo has proposed funding for only a tiny fraction of the 30,000 units of supportive housing needed in New York City over the next ten years," Mary Brosnahan, president and CEO of Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement.

Douglas Cooper, associate executive director of the Association for Community Living and member of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing, agreed.

"Governor Cuomo is correct, there’s a homeless problem, but it isn’t just a New York City issue, it is a statewide issue as well," Cooper said. "Supportive housing has proven results in getting people off the street long-term and helping them address their mental and physical health needs."

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the state budget includes $125 million for supportive housing efforts. It's an amount advocates say is not adequate to meet the need. But the state can't do it alone, Lever said.

"Our local partners must match our efforts because it's critical we confront this crisis head-on and maximize the total number of new supportive housing units developed in the city," Lever said.

Or, as Cuomo said during the press conference: "I will spend more and I think the city should spend more."

Councilman Stephen Levin, chairman of the Committee on General Welfare, said the city is spending more and has "aggressively" sought to address homelessness since de Blasio came into office.

The city recently committed an additional $1 billion over four years to deal with homelessness and a $10 million emergency plan will provide rental assistance for those facing the loss of their homes.

A $22 million initiative to address the mentally ill who are prone to violence called NYC Safe includes more funding for the city's Department of Homeless Services. The city is also funding an effort to provide housing court attorneys to help keep people in their apartments.

Of the $88 million that the city spends to provide rental subsidies to keep families from being homeless, the state commits approximately $7.2 million of that total while the federal government gives $9.3 million, Levin said.

"Over the last 20 months the level of funding by the city administration to combat homelessness is historic," said Levin. "In order to really address this we need a real partnership with the state. There needs to be all hands on deck."