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Cuomo turns to Stringer to review homeless shelter system

By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio thought he had gained some momentum in his battle with the city’s homeless crisis in the days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State Address. Last week the mayor vowed his administration was “taking the gloves off” and “we’re owning this issue 110 percent.”

On Monday he announced his administration has financed more than 40,000 affordable apartments since taking office, and Tuesday the mayor rolled out a Supportive Housing Task Force to help the city implement its plan to create 15,000 units of supportive housing.

“It means thousands of people off the street, out of shelter, away from the revolving door of the criminal justice system and emergency rooms,” de Blasio said. On Wednesday, he traveled to Albany, where he explained to legislators how the city is handling a shelter population of 58,000 people with another 3,000 to 4,000 living on the street.

Then de Blasio and Cuomo had a meeting Wednesday morning.

“The governor and I talked for, I think, about a half an hour,” he said. “It was a productive conversation and (we) went over some of the details of his speech.”

At 12:30, Mayor de Blasio took his seat in the third row of an Albany convention center and waited for more than an hour until Cuomo reached the point in his speech where he addressed the city’s homeless crisis.

Calling the explosion of the number of homeless on the streets “a true human crisis,” Cuomo said, “we will not allow people to dwell in the gutter like garbage.”

He proposed spending $20 billion over five years as part of an effort to reduce the growing number of New Yorkers who are homeless. Cuomo said the state will add 100,000 permanent affordable housing units, 6,000 new supportive housing beds and 1,000 emergency shelter beds. He pledged the state will continue supporting 44,000 units of housing with supportive services and 77,000 shelter beds.

“People have been attacked and victimized in some shelters, and some would rather stay outside in the frigid cold than risk entering — and they are right to do it,” Cuomo said. “It’s imperative that we improve conditions of the shelters and restore the public’s trust in the system. We need a true independent review, inspection and action plan from objective experts to go forward.”

Cuomo then appointed City Comptroller Scott Stringer to inspect the city’s homeless shelters and promised to shut down those that are not up to standards. Stringer had blasted the de Blasio administration over the shelter system in an audit last year.

He has also rejected a permanent contract proposal of the Boulevard Family Shelter in the former Pan American hotel in Elmhurst three times since it opened in June 2014. Stringer, who was in Albany for the address, spoke briefly after the governor’s address.

“Homeless shelters are our invisible city,” Stringer said. “I will work with my fellow comptrollers, as well as our partners in city and state government to continue to audit and investigate our shelters in a comprehensive way and ensure they are safe for our most vulnerable citizens. Increased state support is critical to addressing this challenge.”

In a media briefing following Cuomo’s address, de Blasio said he did not believe the announcement gave Stringer any new powers. He said the city Department of Investigation had already looked into shelter conditions last year.

De Blasio added that Stringer has the existing authority to conduct audits, but he called the power to close shelters “an entirely different matter that has to be worked through.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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