About 4,000 people in New York City are homeless on the streets. Outreach NYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest effort at combating street homelessness in the city, will direct 18,000 city workers to call 311 to report street homelessness and steer people into shelters.
Street homelessness is a crisis in New York City, as evidenced by the recent murders of four homeless men on the streets. With this new program, public workers like parks, sanitation, buildings, fire and health and mental hygiene employees will be trained to use 311 apps to send information and service requests to Outreach NYC. The outreach workers will use the detailed information to identify those on the streets and begin the process of directing them toward shelters and other services.
De Blasio said he would hire nearly 200 additional outreach workers to add to the team of about 600. Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, who was named the new deputy mayor of health and human services on Thursday, will be leading the effort.
The nearly 4,000 street homeless make up 5% of the roughly 79,000 homeless population in New York City. According to The New York Times, there were 60,479 people in New York City’s shelter system as of Tuesday. Of those, nearly 22,000 are children.
Activists have been calling for de Blasio to build more affordable housing for the homeless. De Blasio’s plan to build 90 new homeless shelters has fallen short, facing backlash from residents who do not want the facilities in their neighborhoods because they decrease property value.
However, some are questioning the efficacy of hiring new workers to try to convince homeless people to enter less-than-desirable conditions at shelters. Giselle Routhier, policy director of the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless told the Times the effort was not enough because the problem lies within the facilities themselves, not with the staff that works to move people to them.
“The problem with street homelessness is not a lack of outreach workers, the problem is they are not being offered something meaningful like housing or a low-barrier shelter,” she said.
Homeless shelters typically require their residents to be sober, petless and have identification on them. Some also implement curfews, which can make it difficult for people staying at them to maintain jobs. Low-barrier shelters accept everyone, regardless of their condition or status.
New York City has recently come under fire for hiring new officers to work in subway stations, which has led to police misuse of force against people of color and low-income individuals attempting to evade the $2.75 fare.
The additional 311 service training will not cost the city anything, according to a City Hall spokeswoman told the New York Post, but hiring the new outreach workers will cost $19 million.