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City Helps 690 Street Homeless Find Housing, But Problem Persists

By Jeff Mays | December 23, 2016 10:46am
 A homeless man tries to stay warm in Midtown during the first arctic blast of the winter Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.
A homeless man tries to stay warm in Midtown during the first arctic blast of the winter Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

THE BRONX — The city's effort to help homeless people on the street find a place to live settled 690 individuals into transitional or permanent housing from March to October 2016, but the homeless problem remains stubbornly persistent, according to city data.

The 690 people were placed into transition or permanent housing as a part of the city's HOME-STAT program, an effort Mayor Bill de Blasio launched last year.

The effort sends outreach workers into the street to identify homeless individuals and to develop a plan to place them into permanent housing. The city also conducted quarterly nighttime counts of the street homeless. Normally, there is one annual count of the homeless conducted during the winter when the fewest homeless are on the street.

►READ MORE: De Blasio Unveils Plan to Tackle City's Homeless Problem

HOME-STAT has also doubled the number of staff doing street outreach to the homeless to 387 from 191 while expanding the search beyond the streets into other public indoor spaces such as hospitals and libraries.

“HOME-STAT has already proven to be an essential lifeline for connecting individuals living on the street, and the hidden homeless who have historically evaded outreach, to the housing and services they need,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

The city has a record number of homeless people in its shelters, with roughly 60,382 people sleeping in shelters as of Wednesday.

But during the four quarterly counts conducted since last year, the number of street homeless people has remained consistent at around 2,700, except for a slight dip to around 2,500 during the spring count.

►READ MORE: Homeless and Advocates Wary of De Blasio's New Outreach Plan

The city has identified a total of 2,976 clients who are currently homeless or have been placed in transitional or permanent housing. That number includes 1,373 people that HOME-STAT workers are trying to place into housing. That total has jumped by 512 people since March.

The remaining 1,603 people are either in transitional or permanent housing or still receiving assistance to remain off the street.

But some homeless and homeless advocates doubt the city's statistics.

In the last year of working with HOME-STAT, Nikita Price, civil rights organizer for Picture the Homeless, an organization that helps the homeless advocate for themselves, says only 35 people have been placed in transitional housing. Only three of those have received permanent housing, he said.

"Start in Lower Manhattan and walk uptown to Port Authority, Times Square and you'll see the large number of homeless people on the street," said Price. "Why do we keep hearing these numbers are going down but when you hit the streets you don't see that?"

Jim Pizarro, 28, a member of Picture the Homeless who has been homeless for five years since his family lost their home, said he's been shifting back and forth from transitional housing sites for a month.

►READ MORE: City's Homeless Agency Failing Children and Families, Audit Finds

Because he's young and healthy, Pizarro said city workers told him it could be a year before he's placed in permanent housing.

"Because I'm a young guy they say there's people in front of me, people who have diabetes and mental health issues. They told me it can take one year for permanent housing," said Pizarro.

The instability has made it difficult to hold down regular work, Pizarro added. Part of his problem in the past is that landlords don't want to take the housing vouchers the city offers.

The city has been housing homeless people in commercial hotels and in cluster site housing often located in decrepit private apartment buildings to deal with the number of people seeking shelter.

An analysis from Comptroller Scott Stringer found that the city spends $400,000 per day to house more than 5,800 people in hotels. From November 2015 to October 2016, the number of homeless housed in hotels jumped to 5,881 from 696, a 745 percent increase.

The average nightly cost has grown 20 percent to $194 from $163, with 815 listings costing $400 per night or more with the most expensive booking costing taxpayers $629 per night.

Earlier this month two infants in The Bronx were killed at a cluster site when the room they were sleeping in filled with steam from the radiator causing fatal burns.

The mayor has vowed to eventually end the use of cluster housing and hotels to house the homeless.

►City Should Stop Contracting With Slumlords, Councilman Says After Tragedy

David Neustadt, a deputy commissioner at the city's Human Resources Administration, said the work is difficult.

"There are a lot of people on the street who refuse to engage," he said. Others have experienced trauma or have already been through the city's safety net social programs.

►READ MORE: Homeless Population Nears 60,000 People Despite City Efforts on Crisis

Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said in a statement that HOME-STAT is trying to meet individuals "where they are" in order to help them, but it's not a quick process.

"It takes an average of almost five months of intensive contact by outreach workers to bring street homeless individuals into transitional housing and more than a year for permanent housing,” said Banks.