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Homelessness 'Not Going Away Overnight,' De Blasio Says

By Jeff Mays | December 22, 2015 10:37am
 The city's homeless problem will get better but it's going to take time, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday during a review of his 2015 accomplishments with reporters at the halfway point of his administration.
De Blasio, at Midway Point, Says Homelesness Problem Will Get Better
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CITY HALL — The city's homeless problem will get better, but it's going to take time, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

"I'm trying to be blunt with the people of New York City. This problem is not going away overnight," de Blasio said during a review of his 2015 accomplishments with reporters Monday at the halfway point of his administration.

The mayor, who has faced months of criticism over the way the city has handled homelessness, said he is investing millions in taxpayer dollars and creating new programs to fix the problem.

Efforts such as spending $2.6 billion to create 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years and creating HOME-STAT, which will track each street homeless person and help them move into housing, will work over time, he said.

"I’m convinced that all of these investments, all these changes are steadily changing the situation," de Blasio said.

The number of people in city shelters is near a record high at 58,000, including 23,000 children. That's down from 59,000 last December, but considerably higher than the 53,000 people in shelters when de Blasio took office two years ago.

The mayor denied street homelessness was an issue for months even as 311 calls soared. De Blasio also repeatedly blamed his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, and frequent rival, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for cutting a successful rental subsidy that kept people in their apartments.

It wasn't until September that the mayor acknowledged an issue with street homelessness.

Since then, two of city's top officials in charge of dealing with homelessness have resigned and the mayor announced a 90-day review of how the city delivers homeless services.

"We have to prevent people from ending up in the shelter to begin with," the mayor said. "We have to get them out of shelter more quickly. We need a host of solutions for people, whether it’s safe havens coming off the street or supportive housing or regular affordable housing, which we’re obviously focused on building."

Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University, said the mayor's approach is not surprising given how much criticism he's faced over the issue.

"He needed to have to have an old-fashioned moment of bluntness with New Yorkers," Greer said. "Bloomberg left the mayor holding the bag on quite a few issues, including homelessness, and this is the mayor's way of saying: 'This something I didn't create and won't solve in the next two years.'"

During his hour-long meeting with reporters, de Blasio called being mayor "simultaneously inspiring and humbling" and more difficult than expected.

The mayor said he has made missteps over the last two years.

"There have been times when, you know, there are situations that I wish I had handled better," de Blasio said. "My job is to make fewer and fewer mistakes."

The mayor declined to go into specifics, only mentioning his previous remarks that he needs to do a better job of communicating with the public.

"I’m not in the business of dwelling on the past," he said.

His biggest accomplishment so far is universal pre-K, the mayor said. There are 68,500 4-year-olds enrolled in free, full-day pre-K now compared to just 20,000 when de Blasio took office.

"Everyone knows my one true love is pre-K," he said. "I care about a lot of issues, but this is the one that I really wanted to make sure we did right."

The mayor also said he did not regret speaking out publicly against the governor in what has turned into a never-ending feud.

"I’m satisfied it was the right approach, and there’s certainly been some good work we’ve done together with the governor and with Albany in recent months," de Blasio said.

In spite of the difficulties of the job — a lack of privacy included — being mayor is something that he has always wanted to do, de Blasio said.

"This has been my whole life’s mission — ever since I was a teenager," he said. "I wanted to do public service — so when you get to do it on this level, you can’t ask for more than that."