The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Homeless and Advocates Wary of De Blasio's New Outreach Plan

By Jeff Mays | December 21, 2015 1:42pm
 Some street homeless and their advocates wary of the new HOME-STAT initiative announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio to connect with and track approximately 4,000 homeless people living on the city's streets.
Street Homeless Wary of De Blasio's New Homeless Outreach Plan
View Full Caption

EL BARRIO — After 16 years of living on the street, Jesus Morales found a job as a porter helping a superintendent manage seven buildings in East Harlem and decided that it was time to move indoors.

Instead of ducking outreach workers under the Park Avenue viaduct where he slept at night because he says he feels safer there than in the city shelter system, Morales, 42, began engaging the workers, explaining that he struggled with alcoholism.

Morales says the workers told him they needed to see him in the same place on the street five times before they began the paperwork to get him a room, a process made more difficult by the police crackdown on homeless in the area over the summer.

That was five months ago.

"After I finish work, I'm still on the street," Morales said through a Spanish translator. "I have signed a piece of paper from outreach workers more than 20 times. What else do they need to know? They see me sleeping on the street every day."

It is situations like Morales' that make some homeless people and their advocates wary of the new HOME-STAT initiative announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, which promises to put more outreach workers and police officers into Manhattan and outer borough homeless hotspots.

But Morales' caseworker at Picture the Homeless, an advocacy organization, doesn't see how more outreach workers are going to make a difference.

"They have already been taking his information on the streets for months," said Nikita Price, civil rights organizer for Picture the Homeless.

"It's like outreach to what?" added Lynn Lewis, the group's executive director. "As soon as outreach workers come into contact with someone like Jesus, they need to put him in a room."

Adding to their concern is the increase in police presence as part of the effort.

They point to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's recent comments that he will seek tougher laws to deal with illegal activities from the street homeless.

Alyssa Aguilera, political director for VOCAL-NY, said Bratton's comments don't give the group's street homeless clients much hope, saying his efforts appear to criminalize the poor, drug-addicted and mentally ill.

"For the street homeless, there is a distrust of police because of decades long policies like 'Broken Windows' and stop-and-frisk," she said. "If a social worker and a police officer are there together that will be perceived by the street homeless with trepidation."

Jeremiah Murphy, 34, has lived on the street for the last 3 1/2 years. He said his interactions with police have been difficult.

"The police are always trying to throw my stuff away," said Murphy, who just got a job as a messenger and a room with his disabled wife. "The cops don't seem like they want to help."

Price said the police are moving the street homeless so often outside the group's East Harlem headquarters at Park Avenue that a population of 25 to 30 homeless this summer is now down to eight.

"Those people haven't come off the street but just moved to another area, making it difficult for outreach workers to find them," she said.

Bratton said he doesn't see this as an effort to harass the homeless.

"I'm not projecting more arrests," he told reporters after the Association for a Better New York breakfast last week. "The idea is since we have so few powers to arrest under criminal law that are available to us now we will try to use the social initiatives and then we will take a fresh look at the criminal laws around the country and see if any of them can withstand muster here."

The mayor says he sees the program as an effort to finally help people off the street.

"I have great faith that HOME-STAT will be a game-changer," de Blasio said on the John Gambling Show.

Now that he has found a job and is trying to straighten out his life, Morales said quicker and easier access to a room would make the most difference.

"People who are poor can't afford the housing that's being built," said Morales. "Every day you go home to your house, take a bath and eat. We are the same as you but we go to the street like we are garbage."