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Hopes for better conditions at Pan Am shelter after new homeless plan is unveiled

By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a comprehensive plan to deal with the city’s homeless crisis that will consolidate two agencies, a move that is expected to save $38 million, according to Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, who will lead the combined departments.

The savings were designed to go to streamlined services that would get the homeless off the street and improve conditions and safety at shelters.

Banks will be in charge of the agency, which integrates the Department of Homeless Services into the Human Resources Administration. The implementation of the plan comes on the heels of a 90-day review of how the city deals with the nearly 58,000 men, women and children currently in shelters and as many as 4,000 chronic homeless individuals living on the streets.

“It’s time to bring new approaches and resources to keep vulnerable New Yorkers in their homes and help those in shelter find new permanent homes,” de Blasio said. “As a result of our 90-day review, we now have a comprehensive plan, including significant policy changes and both programmatic and structural reforms that will enable us to do just that. I urge the state, the providers, the advocates and homeless New Yorkers to join us in a new partnership to bring the homeless situation that has built up over the years under control.”

There are four key elements to the new plan — prevention, rehousing, street homelessness outreach and improving shelter conditions — and a total of 46 individual systemic reforms. The administration’s commitment to provide decent living conditions, high-quality social services and enhanced security at shelters drew the support of one Queens’ lawmaker.

“Having the Pan American shelter in my district, I have seen the conditions families are forced to live in,” state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said. “These are people who are working hard to get back on their feet, but the rising rent costs and low pay have prevented them from doing so. But those living in shelters are not the only ones affected. The surrounding community is also impacted, a fact that cannot be ignored. I have worked hard to ensure the residents and surrounding community needs are addressed and have long said changes at DHS are overdue.”

Stavisky said she was pleased to see prevention and greater access to affordable housing at the center of the plan as well as a stronger line of communication between shelters and the NYPD.

The mayor unveiled the city’s plan at a press event in the Bronx Monday that got sidetracked when reporters put the focus on his defunct Campaign for One New York. The non-profit the mayor used to advance his political goals took hundreds of thousands in donations from developers that “were supporting progressive change” versus those aligned against his universal pre-K and affordable housing rezoning plan. “Everything was very carefully and scrupulously checked for consistency with city, state, and federal law for absolute consistency with any other standards that had to be held,” de Blasio said, The mayor went on to say that he would no longer respond to questions about U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s reported investigation into the matter nor had he heard from federal officials on the matter.

The mayor changed course telling reporters Wednesday that he asked a lawyer for his 2013 campaign reach out to Bharara’s office and offer any assistance and “let them know we’re happy to work with them in any way that would be helpful.”

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

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