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City is Not Doing Enough to Help the Homeless, Poll Finds

By Jeff Mays | January 20, 2016 1:19pm | Updated on January 20, 2016 2:22pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a family homeless shelter in Bushwick in December with former Council Speaker and head of homeless housing provider WIN, Christine Quinn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a family homeless shelter in Bushwick in December with former Council Speaker and head of homeless housing provider WIN, Christine Quinn.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

NEW YORK CITY — The city is not doing enough to help the homeless, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The poll found that 73 percent of voters felt the city was doing too little to help homeless people while 19 percent said the city was doing the right amount. Another two percent thought the city was doing too much.

The poll also found that 66 percent of voters believe homelessness is a very serious problem and 27 percent believe it is somewhat serious. Only five percent believe homelessness is not a very serious problem.

And 55 percent of voters also do not approve of the way de Blasio is handling homelessness and poverty. The poll found that 36 percent of voters do approve.

“New Yorkers are seeing more homeless people on the street and they don’t like it. They say the quality of life is not so good and that it’s getting worse. They say homelessness is a big problem and they don’t think Mayor Bill de Blasio is on top of it,” Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll said in a statement.

De Blasio has been fighting the perception that he is not on top of the homelessness problem after denying this summer that there was an increase in street homelessness.

The mayor initially blamed media coverage for driving up concern about homelessness even after DNAinfo New York reported that 311 calls about the homeless had jumped 60 percent. The city's shelter population also hovers near record highs with 58,155 people in city shelters, including 23,418 children.

It wasn't until after de Blasio's hand-picked Police Commissioner William Bratton said the mayor was slow to acknowledge the problem that de Blasio acknowledged there was an issue.

"I think a mistake that the administration made early on was not validating what we all were seeing," Bratton said during a November panel discussion at the Manhattan Institute.

The mayor acknowledged that he has not done a good job explaining the homeless issue and letting the public know what they are doing about it.

Since then, de Blasio has unleashed a blitz of initiatives to address the homeless problem. He announced a plan to spend $2.6 billion over 15 years to create 15,000 supportive housing units and launched a new program called HOME-STAT that is designed to provide every street homeless person with a path to housing.

The mayor has also ordered a review of how the city delivers services to the homeless. Two of the city's top officials who deal with homelessness, Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, have resigned.

The new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Herminia Palacio, has crisis management experience.

The city also touted the federal government's assessment that New York City has ended chronic veteran homelessness and a plan to provide 300 more beds for homeless youth and runaways.

At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled his own initiatives to deal with homelessness after his staff said that the mayor could not manage the problem.

Ishanee Parikh, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, said the city was working hard to address homelessness.

"We agree that our city's homeless families and individuals deserve more prevention, shelter exit, and street outreach options, and that's why we’ve made unprecedented commitments to ensure New York City has the most comprehensive program to prevent and reduce homelessness in the country," Parikh said.

"We continue to evaluate opportunities to more effectively and efficiently get our city's homeless population the services and resources they deserve," she added.

In spite of the mayor's efforts, New Yorkers remain concerned about homelessness.

The poll found that 58 percent of voters say they see more homeless people on the street, subways and in the parks from just a few years ago, compared to 11 percent who say they see less. Another 27 percent say they see the same amount.

Homelessness is tied for second as the city's biggest problem with 13 percent of voters feeling that way. Another 13 percent said housing while 12 percent said the economy. Crime was the top issue for 15 percent of voters.

"We don't think the mayor is doing enough," said William Burnett, a board member of advocacy group Picture the Homeless. "The mayor is just now starting to get the message that he has to go a different route."

Evan Thies, a political consultant and president of Brooklyn Strategies, said the poll shows that de Blasio is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to homelessness.

"This is a serious challenge to the mayor perception wise. The only change that will bring that concern down is reducing the number of homeless," Thies said.

"There's always going to be a large population of New Yorkers who don't want to see homeless people on the street and a large volume who want to make sure that we are compassionate to that population."

New Yorkers are very compassionate about the homeless problem, the poll found, with 71 percent of those surveyed saying homeless people are in the situation they are in due to factors beyond their control. Only 13 percent blame the homeless for the situation they are in.

The poll also found that 93 percent of voters are very sympathetic or somewhat sympathetic for homeless adults. Only five percent were somewhat unsympathetic or very unsympathetic.

"If you ask New Yorkers in any given year if the homeless need more help, the vast majority will say yes," Thies said. "The primary goal has to be to reduce the homeless population and to make sure they are warm when it's cold and that they get treatment when they are sick. For any mayor, that's no easy task."