The Partnership for the Homeless

Looking forward

Dear Friend of the Partnership:

As Mayor Bill de Blasio settles on his overall city-wide agenda, there is indeed some heavy lifting that needs to be done to change direction on how our city has confronted homelessness for the last three decades. Genuine change is achievable, though, if that effort starts with a commitment to fundamentally shift course – to move away from the quick-fix and crisis management to one that invests in the long term.

In making changes, the mayor should focus on two areas that require immediate attention (1) the creation of affordable housing opportunities for families and individuals who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness, and, concurrently, (2) the development of robust, community-based services that are truly designed to provide targeted support needed to prevent homelessness.

There is certainly much to be done to implement changes in these two areas of need, but they should provide Mayor de Blasio with, at least, a broad blueprint for building the foundation for sustainable solutions.

In moving forward, though, we must understand that homelessness provides us with a complex array of issues – from the personal to the structural – and that we can’t expect to create equilibrium by addressing any one issue in isolation.

Thus, creating opportunities to live in affordable and decent housing is surely an important start. But there are also other congruent issues at stake, such as inadequate access to health care, enervated neighborhood schools, stagnant local economies, and few economic opportunities that must be incorporated into any citywide response, if we’re truly to address the underlying issues that drive so many into homelessness.

Finally, to ensure success of his efforts, Mayor de Blasio must change the current relationship with community leadership and other stakeholders, outside of government, bringing them into the process, as well. This shift is crucial because, over the years, the Bloomberg administration largely relied on a top-down approach; decision-making rested almost exclusively on the edicts of government.

A more open administration can begin to develop the important public-private relationships needed so that there is, indeed, shared responsibility with city agencies to tackle the structural issues that are often the drivers of homelessness. Certainly, no one was happy with the past approach, which so often pitted homeless families and individuals against communities, advocates against administrators, and neighborhood groups ignored by or, at best, working at cross-purposes with the city. 

Perhaps Mayor de Blasio has made a good start to manage this effort by appointing Lilliam Barrios-Paoli as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. Hopefully, the new Deputy Mayor can use the position as a platform to reframe the discussion and form working groups from the public and private sectors to implement the necessary change in how we’ve historically dealt with homelessness.

Sincerely yours,

Arnold S. Cohen
President and CEO