NYC Considering Better Homeless Policy and Programs

by Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy

The New York City budget process moves along with continuing signs of improving homeless policy in the Big Apple. Since the De Blasio administration and Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor came to office 15 ½ months ago New York City has gone from no real tools to important programs designed to fight and prevent homelessness in the city. For example there was absolutely no subsidy or direct housing program to transition people from shelter to permanent housing in December, 2013. Today, with support of both the city administration and the City Council, there are 6 LINC (living in the Community) subsidy programs designed to subsidize that transition for over 5,000 households annually, and a targeted priority to move 750 families (the city actually exceeded that goal this fiscal year) into NYCHA public housing units that become available each year.

Now the City Council has released its response to the Mayor’s preliminary budget submission with suggestions for even better policies. Council’s requests include another 100 additional shelter beds for unaccompanied Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY), increasing the number of NYCHA units targeted to households in shelter from 750 to 2,500 annually and adding a $1 million appropriation for emergency housing for disabled veterans at risk of homelessness in New York City.

The Council also wants to add $14.7 million in funding to the Emergency Food Assistance Program to aid city food banks which have been struggling to meet demands since sequestration cut SNAP (food stamp) assistance in 2013, and to create a $9.7 million fund for HIV prevention, viral suppression and HIV support programs.

Council also wants to create a program to provide legal representation to tenants in housing court and if they can to provide lawyers to consumers without representation in most civil court matters. They also want to reform the city’s bail and summons procedures so that so many poor New Yorkers don’t sit in jail or lose days for minor matters they haven’t been convicted of. In fact, they are studying decriminalization of minor offenses like violations of the open container ban on alcohol, turnstile jumping and other minor offenses that would then become a civil summons rather than a criminal record. These matters account for far more than half of all criminal summonses issued annually by NYPD, and can avoid criminal records for many New Yorkers while avoiding millions in police and court costs.  

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