HELL'S KITCHEN — The city will create 300 new beds for homeless youth over the next three years, tripling the available amount since the start of his term, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his fourth major announcement regarding homelessness over the last several days.
The latest announcement comes on the heels of the news that the city has ended "chronic" veteran homelessness, will phase out the use of decrepit rental apartments to house homeless families and the hiring of a new deputy mayor with crisis management experience to head the fight against homelessness.
The announcements also come in the days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has criticized the mayor's handling of the homelessness crisis, is expected to unveil his initiatives for dealing with the problem at the State of the State address on Jan. 13.
De Blasio said dealing with homeless and runaway youth is a priority because many are put out of their home by parents upset by their sexuality. As much as 40 percent of homeless and runaway youth are LGBT, according to city officials.
'We have to change the culture that young people who are coming out face," said Bill Chong, commissioner for the Department of Youth and Community Development.
De Blasio said "some young people do not feel comfortable in adult shelters" and are forced to choose between staying in an adult shelter when there are no available youth beds or on the streets.
"It's a horrible choice and a dangerous choice," de Blasio said at Covenant House, a shelter for homeless and runaway youth.
The city is nearly at capacity in the 392 currently certified youth beds. Another 61 beds should be available by February.
At the end of the three years, the city will have 750 youth beds, just about triple of the 253 available when de Blasio took office in January 2014.
"We will keep adding beds, not only as quickly as possible, but as much as needed," he said. "If we need more we will add more. If we need them more quickly we will produce them more quickly because we don't want any young people waiting."
Under the new plan, counselors will now go to Department of Homeless Services shelters to tell young people they have the option of staying in a youth shelter. There are currently 66 people aged 18 to 20 years old in DHS shelters.
De Blasio also said the city would work with the state to increase to 90 days the amount of time youth can stay in a shelter. Current state rules allow only 60 days.
"That additional month is going to make a world of difference for young people trying to turn their lives around," said de Blasio.
Janaia Clarke, 20, said her time at Covenant House has made a difference.
When Clarke's parents, both ordained ministers, found out she was gay, problems between them led to her being out on the street at the age of 18, she said.
For a month, she slept on the train or couch surfed with friends before winding up at a woman's shelter in The Bronx.
"It was scary. You saw people getting beat up and doing all kinds of unsavory things," Clarke said of her time at the shelter.
Soon, she was told a bed had opened up at Covenant House.
Now 20, Clarke works as an elevator mechanic assistant while planning a career in film. She's glad young people in her situation will have a chance to get to a youth shelter quicker.
"This is something that was a big problem and now it's being addressed," said Clarke who is working to move to her own apartment. "Look at me. I'm on my way."