NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday hired an expert in crisis management as deputy mayor overseeing New York City's response to homelessness.
Dr. Herminia Palacio, 54, has more than 25 years of experience in public health and will be tasked with dealing with one of the most vexing issues facing the de Blasio's administration as deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
Palacio has helped coordinate health services for Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston and worked in San Francisco to manage the HIV/AIDS epidemic there.
Two of the city's top officials dealing with homelessness — including Palacio's predecessor — have resigned in the last four months and the mayor has been criticized for his management and response to the crisis as the number of people in city shelters stubbornly hovers close to record highs and 311 calls about the street homelessness increased.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has seized upon the issue to criticize de Blasio's management skills.
In addition to a controversial executive order Cuomo issued Sunday requiring homeless people to be removed from the street in freezing temperatures, he is expected to unveil proposals to address the problem in his upcoming State of the State address.
"This position," said de Blasio "is clearly one of the toughest, most rigorous roles in local government anywhere in the country. And it takes someone with extraordinary capacity to handle it."
Palacio was chosen after a national search but only a few candidates were interviewed before it became clear she was the top choice, said the mayor.
She is a Latina, as was her predecessor. De Blasio has come under fire from Latino leaders about diversity in his administration.
Palacio, who was born in The Bronx, will oversee eight city agencies and will receive a salary of $227,737 when she starts on Jan. 25.
She is currently the head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and previously worked as executive director of the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services, an area that includes Houston, Texas.
Palacio said she was proud to be a part of an administration that is "firmly, relentlessly committed to equity, to equality, to serving the most vulnerable."
When it comes to homelessness, Palacio said it is "an issue that plagues not just this city but many cities across the nation. It's an issue that was a long-standing problem before this mayor came in office and, unfortunately, it will be an issue that is likely not to be completely resolved" when de Blasio leaves office.
"We need to have an all-hands-on-deck mentality," she said. "We need to be able understand that to solve this problem we need to to work outside of our traditional silos. We need to leverage those resources together so that the sum is greater than the whole of its parts."