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  September 26, 2004

Getting to the Heart of the Problem
By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

Today, more than 36,000 of our fellow New Yorkers, including more than 15,000 children, did not have the good fortune the rest of us enjoyed. They didn’t wake up in their own beds, in their own rooms. Instead, they began the day in City homeless shelters. Thousands more men and women met the dawn on the streets of New York—because that’s where they live.

Because New York is a compassionate city, over the last 20 years, we’ve created the largest emergency shelter system in the nation. And during the last City Fiscal Year, our Department of Homeless Services moved a record 24,000 people out of shelters and into permanent homes. That’s something we can be genuinely proud of. But we also have to recognize a hard truth—and that is that for too long we’ve focused too much on a crisis management approach to homelessness, and not enough on finding long-term solutions.

Our Administration is changing that. In June, we presented an action plan for effectively ending chronic homelessness in New York City within five years. And we’ve already begun to make substantial progress toward that goal. Last week, for example, we launched a homelessness prevention initiative in six communities throughout the city where the threat of homelessness hangs over too many families. Called “Home Base,” this program will work to keep people in their homes, and out of City shelters, by providing such services as landlord-tenant mediation, substance abuse counseling, or help with drawing up and staying on a family budget. Because the simple fact is that while everyone has a right to shelter, emergency shelter isn’t always the right answer to every housing crisis. Keeping families in their homes is usually a much better solution for everyone involved.

We’re also making major headway toward our goal of dramatically increasing the city’s supply of supportive housing, which provides on-site social services to people who need help getting their lives back on track. Recently, Enterprise New York, the local chapter of one of the nation’s largest funders of low-income housing, committed to underwriting development of 2,500 units of supportive housing in our city. This will go a long way toward helping New Yorkers with special needs, such as the mentally ill homeless, and young people who are “aging out” of the foster care system. Without such housing, too many of them could wind up on our streets or stay indefinitely in shelters.

Openness and accountability are the hallmarks of our Administration. So starting in January, we’ll post monthly updates on our progress on this issue at this web site: I have to tell you, I like the sound of that name—because we’re going to do everything we can to end homelessness in New York City.