Mayor’s New, New Homeless Plan
Every time Mayor Bill de Blasio talks about homelessness, he talks about shelters. When he talks about shelters, many in Rockaway clench their jaws grimly.
Well, if you’re just tuning in, the peninsula has experienced its share of being lied to on a regular basis by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). So if you heard the screeching sound of teeth grinding on Feb. 28, it might have been because de Blasio’s new “comprehensive” plan to fight homelessness includes the construction of 90 new shelters.
Yes, you read that right, 90 new shelters.
Now, homelessness has skyrocketed under de Blasio, yet the first several pages of the document details his predecessors as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s failures to combat homelessness.
His staff also had the chutzpah to include this paragraph in the administration’s 114-page plan:
“No other city in the U.S. employs such a broad and sophisticated array of homelessness prevention tools as New York City,” it states on page 32. “The rapid, strategic improvement of these tools under the de Blasio administration has already led to measurably better outcomes for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who would otherwise have been forced out of their homes and into a shelter.”
Well, they can certainly turn a phrase, but the simple fact is, since 2014, when de Blasio took office, homelessness has careened out of control. Also a fact, it’s mostly his fault.
Hours before taking office in January 2014, de Blasio released a statement describing his new agency appointees, which included a new head of DHS, Gilbert Taylor.
“As we (are) revamping our approach to homelessness, the stakes …could not be higher,” de Blasio wrote. “We sought progressive leaders with the depth and know-how to take on these challenges, and we have built a phenomenal team that is ready to take on a bold agenda.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher, so the Mayor hired Taylor, a Family Court attorney -- who had never run a city agency before -- to tackle the city’s highest ever homeless population.
Taylor’s DHS made its first impression on Rockaway when it announced in July 2014 it was placing a “temporary” homeless shelter at the former Daytop facility on Beach 65th Street. This took place despite months of telling Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Councilmember Donovan Richards and several other elected officials there were “no plans” to put a shelter on the peninsula.
However, on July 16, 2014 -- in a letter signed by Lisa Black, the Assistant Commissioner of DHS -- the agency’s plans were made clear, there would indeed be a shelter.
Black, who never returned repeated calls from The Wave, was named in several emails with elected officials as one of the individuals denying any plans were in place for the shelter. She left DHS in October, 2014, and currently serves as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES).
In December of 2014, Taylor wrote to de Blasio to propose making the “temporary” shelter a long-term facility. In The Wave’s editorial “Selective Outrage” (Dec. 5, 2014), we stated that DHS and Housing Bridge – the nonprofit company that operates the shelter – circumvented the initial six-month review process by two months.
Residents were told that families with children would be living in the shelter, yet in September, 2014, The Wave had confirmed that according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) online sex offender registry, two Level 3 offenders – Alberto Garcia and Donald Davis — were living in the shelter.
Taylor’s DHS – as far as Rockaway was concerned – was another city agency caught in a web of lies. Taylor “resigned” in Dec. 2015, but continued to collect his $219,773 as a consultant to help shape the 2016 version of a new homeless policy, which resulted in the city’s folding DHS into the Human Resources Administration
That’s worked out so well, we needed the new, new homeless policy announced on Feb. 28.
The Wave is hoping for the best, but given DHS’s track record – and de Blasio’s – there’s more than a chance that potential shelter sites are being looked at already.
Let’s hope Rockaway’s elected officials do their job, and put the peninsula’s people before party politics.