By Tom Momberg
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has released the final report on the current state of homelessness in the city, following a forum convened by the Senate Task Force on the Delivery of Social Services in New York City in October.
Policy analysts, city agency directors and advocacy groups lined up in a series of panels at the forum, highlighting the city’s tactics to provide a homeless census and attempts to put more families from its shelter system into permanent housing.
Avella’s office said it would be releasing recommendations for the city and state based on that testimony in the coming months.
One Queens civic director’s testimony stood out against the city Department of Homeless Services’ new allocation of about $1 billion over the next four years in an attempt to move more of its shelter population into permanent subsidized or market-rate housing.
Jennifer Chu, who created the civic group Elmhurst United out of concern for the growing number of homeless people and in opposition to the city’s proposals for more homeless housing in Elmhurst, said throwing more money at temporary housing is only making the homeless issue worse.
“Although DHS is tasked with preventing homelessness and quickly transitioning the homeless into permanent housing, DHS is part of the problem,” she said.
Chu gave an example from the department’s executive budget that the city spends about $3,800 a month for each room in the Pan American Hotel, 79-00 Queens Blvd., that it uses for temporary housing — about twice the price of market-rate one- and two-bedroom housing.
And in consideration of the many building and fire code violations at shelters that resulted from a city Department of Investigation report in the spring, Chu said DHS should not be paying landlords full rent, but should impose penalties on failing shelters and invest more in permanent housing.
But housing permanency is one of several goals in DHS’s ongoing operational plan — with the major intention of moving people out of shelters and into permanent housing.
Former DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said the department’s current funding had helped it move 38,000 people out of shelters, including 15,000 to permanent housing.
But Taylor said the priority in the city should be preventing homelessness, so temporary housing is not as much of a need.
“It is important to understand that large economic forces have affected New York City, and now we are faced with the results of pronounced economic inequality.” told the forum.
Citing a census of the shelter system’s population — estimated at 57,000 people — and that one in five city residents lives below the poverty line, Taylor said the new funding over the next four years would go a long way to preventing many families’ needs for shelters.
Taylor, who resigned in mid-December, was replaced by the agency’s human resources administration commissioner, Steve Banks.
After hearing the testimony at the October forum, Avella said the department under the mayoral administration’s leadership has failed to address the growing homeless population.
“The next step for the Task Force on the Delivery of Social Services in New York City is to analyze the causes of and propose solutions to the homelessness crisis. I look forward to working with Commissioner Banks to rework DHS into an agency capable of servicing the homeless population and stemming its rise,” Avella said.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb