Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that he’s dispatching outreach teams as part of a new program to tackle the city’s homeless problem. The new initiative — the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams, or HOME-STAT — will send case workers to designated areas in Manhattan and the outer boroughs to help connect people sleeping on the streets to social and mental-health services and to try to help individuals enter shelters, and eventually permanent housing.
The mayor, who introduced HOME-STAT during a speech this morning, called the program "the most comprehensive street homelessness outreach effort ever deployed in a major American city."
The new outreach teams, who will wear bright-green jackets as uniforms, will deploy immediately, per Newsday. About 175 case workers will canvass in Manhattan, between Canal Street and 145th Street, and other "hotspots" in the outer boroughs. The program will grow its ranks to more than 300 by March 2016. Cops will also work closely with HOME-STAT to crack down on illegal activity, such as panhandling. De Blasio said the program will also let residents call into 311 if they see a homeless person in need of attention, and either the case workers or dedicated police officers will respond within the hour, reports the Observer.
An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people are sleeping on the city’s streets — though that number is hard to pin down. Nearly 60,000 people, including more than 23,000 kids, slept in shelters in October.
De Blasio’s announcement comes just two days after the commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, Gilbert Taylor, stepped down from his post. Taylor’s resignation follows that of former New York deputy mayor for health and human services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli in September. The turnover has, in a way, personified how the problem of homelessness has dogged the mayoral administration in recent months, with many, including Governor Cuomo, criticizing de Blasio for being caught flat-footed in the face of a spiraling problem. Even the mayor admitted he made a "mistake" in how he addressed the public’s concern, though he’s maintained throughout that the huge homeless population is a problem that began under previous administrations.
The mayor has since responded with a handful of new initiatives to combat homelessness. After Taylor’s resignation, de Blasio said that the administration will review and overhaul the Department of Homeless Service. In November, de Blasio introduced a nearly $3 billion package to create 15,000 supportive housing units for homeless people and give them comprehensive access to mental and social services. He also proposed a $10 million eviction-prevention plan back in August.