Gothamist: De Blasio Wrestles With NYC Homeless Crisis Following Deputy Mayor's Departure

gothamist

De Blasio Wrestles With NYC Homeless Crisis Following Deputy Mayor’s Departure

Laura Evans | September 1, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the deputy mayor for health and human services, will step down at the end of September. The news coincides with increased attention to the city’s expanding homeless population, but the mayor insisted this morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show that Barrios-Paoli’s departure was strictly personal and perfectly amicable.

“Everyone has to make their own choices about how long they want to be in public service in this vein,” he said during the segment. “I think Lilliam did a great job.”

Barrios-Paoli, who accepted an appointment as Chairperson of the Board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, has served in various capacities under four NYC mayors. Her departure comes as a disappointing blow to advocates like Alyssa Aguilera, the political director the the group VOCAL-NY.

“From homelessness, to poverty, to public health, we looked to Lilliam Barrios-Paoli as a beacon of progressivism and a true fighter for social justice,” Aguilera told Gothamist in an email. “The de Blasio administration will be hard-pressed to find a better advocate for the poor, but amidst a growing homelessness crisis and rampant inequality—we very much hope her bold vision for social change is upheld despite her sudden departure.”

Between January and August 9 of this year, the city’s 311 system fielded 20,242 calls about homeless people in need of assistance, in an emergency or living in an encampment, DNAinfo reports. There were 21,882 similar calls to 311 in all of 2013.

In June 2015, the NYC shelter system received 58,761 people each night, including 21,675 adults in families, 23,692 children in families, and 13,394 single adults. This number does not include the street homeless who refuse to enter the notoriously violent homeless shelter system—their numbers are more difficult to accurately count, but tend to increase with warmer weather.

De Blasio attributes the rise in homelessness in part to the economy, adding that while many homeless people work full time, “the wages they have made don’t keep up with the cost of living.” Indeed, NYC rents have increased faster than inflation, and median rents shot up 3.4 percent over a three year period.

“Yes, there is something real going on here,” he told Lehrer. “It is much more an economic problem than it is being acknowledged to be.”

He also blames the decision by former mayor Michael Bloomberg on to end a rental subsidy program, which assisted people living in shelters to afford their own apartments, provided they work or participate in job training programs.

Despite the dismal numbers, de Blasio touted his efforts in an op-ed in the Daily News on Sunday, pointing specifically to the $1 billion in funding his administration has dedicated to getting people into shelters and connecting them with services. He also said that since last fall, nearly 15,000 people have moved out of shelters, and prevention programs have helped more than 20,000 keep their homes.

Finally, Lehrer gave the mayor an opportunity to pooh-pooh a soundbyte from Rudolph Giuliani, who dismissed de Blasio’s tactics for handling homelessness as bloated and wasteful.

“‘You chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em, and they either get the treatment that they need or you chase ’em out of the city,” the former mayor told NBC New York last month.

“We don’t ‘chase’ human beings who are in crisis,” de Blasio said, his voice tinged with disgust. “That’s not a serious look at how to solve the problem. Anyone who tries to reduce it to simple slogans is missing the reality.”

As the segment ended, Lehrer tried to squeeze in a question about the rumored return of “the Bad Old Days,” sending de Blasio on a heated diatribe resulting in the aural equivalent of being dragged off the stage by bouncers at the Oscars.

“I think we should be careful about anyone who likes to talk about the old days in this town,” he said. “The bad old days are gone. I think we have to be very blunt about this—that is the cheapest analysis that one could offer.”

“Ten seconds,” Lehrer warned.

“It’s ridiculous,” he spat as the music grew more forceful. “We’re never going back to the bad old days.”

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