He may not be responsible for the homeless issue, but it’s now New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s problem to handle.
De Blasio can no longer hang his hat on who started the homeless epidemic in the five boroughs, but he appears to be doing something about it. Will it be enough? The answer depends on who you ask.
Last week, the mayor announced a plan for the city to hire more lawyers to help tenants fight potential evictions and avoid being thrown into the street. According to city officials, a third of New Yorkers entering homeless shelters arrive there after getting evicted from their apartments.
“There are some [landlords] who take advantage of innocent tenants to try and make more money. It’s as simple as that,” said de Blasio during a news conference. “And there are strong and clear laws against such harassment, against forced evictions, but so many of our tenants who are in these situations don’t have the legal support they need.”
The city will reportedly spend over $12.3 million on the new program, which would bump the total money spent combating landlord harassment and eviction to $60 million.
To those such as DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, this action is a step in the right direction. In a statement, he said that the mayor has been treated unjustly by critics over the homelessness issue.
“Too many pundits and political enemies have blamed the mayor for the city’s homeless problem, as if it emerged out of nowhere after he was elected,” said Garrido. “The fact is, his administration has been diligently working on humane approaches to this problem, and today’s announcement is further evidence of his commitment to ease the suffering of the homeless in our communities.”
Joo-Hyun Kang, of Communities United for Police Reform, said that he wants the de Blasio administration and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to stop “contradicting” themselves in how they tackle the homeless issue.
“Commissioner Bratton’s effort to find a way to criminalize homeless New Yorkers under the law isn’t progressive or an effective way to address the housing and economic crises that create homelessness,” said Kang in a statement. “In fact, it undermines any efforts to truly move people into permanent homes and alleviate economic inequality, and is reminiscent of his illegal, failed efforts in Los Angeles. This administration can’t claim compassion for homeless New Yorkers from one side while the other side advances tools of police harassment, intimidation and oppression that perpetuate inequality.
Bratton recently denied reports that the New York Police Department was using a computer system to track the city’s homeless. The New York Daily News reported that some members of the force have taken to calling it “Bum-Stat” in reference to the crime data system used by the NYPD titled CompStat. He did admit to reporters later on that he discusses the homelessness issue at CompStat meetings, but it’s in the context of “quality of life” crimes.
“An intention to eradicate respect for the rights of New Yorkers to be free from abusive, discriminatory policing on our streets is disgraceful, and it’s time for City Hall to end the doublespeak on this issue,” said Kang.
Jason Grimes, of the activist group Picture the Homeless, had harsher words for the mayor and commissioner. Grimes sees the past month-plus as de Blasio no longer “hiding his disdain” for homeless New Yorkers.
“Police officers already engage in constant unconstitutional harassment and abuse of people without homes, and now Bratton wants a reinterpretation of the law to allow for further criminalization?” asked Grimes in a statement. “This isn’t outreach, and to cloak it as such is disingenuous. Bratton’s latest statements are emblematic of the conflicting actions and messages coming from the de Blasio administration on homelessness. Police-led approaches that criminalize low-income, poor and homeless New Yorkers undermine constructive efforts. They contradict White House recommendations, Justice Department legal positions, the pope’s call for compassion and sound policy. “
Grimes added, “Mayor de Blasio needs to stop his administration’s equivocating on this issue—you can’t invoke the pope when it suits you and then actively encourage or turn a blind eye to your Police Department’s counterproductive, immoral treatment of the homeless that Pope Francis would certainly abhor.”