When Mayor de Blasio stepped to the podium at his news conference last week with Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the Rev. Al Sharpton over his shoulders, it felt like déjà vu all over again.
The religious leaders joined Hizzoner inside Judson Memorial Church to announce his “new” plan to combat street homelessness, which would have the city partner with the Catholic Church and other religious organizations to create more safe-haven beds around the city.
Sounds nice. But hang on a minute: The mayor four years ago held a similar news conference with Cardinal Dolan to announce a plan to provide beds to people living on the street. So what happened between then and now that called for another news press conference about the same topic?
The answer: Another failed de Blasio program happened.
Rather than expanding his original partnership with religious organizations, the mayor spent the past few years promoting his Turning the Tide program without ever actually turning the tide. Now he is finally reverting back to a proven system: partnering with the people whose mission it is to help those in need. Imagine that.
When I began campaigning for the City Council three years ago, a faith-based approach to housing the homeless is exactly what I called for. After taking office, I continued to push this approach, but the mayor continued to eye warehouses and other massive buildings, where he could build 200-bed shelters where the homeless themselves are often afraid to enter.
Eventually, I convinced the Department of Homeless Services to create one faith-based shelter in my district with 15 beds, and it has been extremely effective. I and other supporters of the faith-based approach should be delighted that the mayor appears to be recommitting himself to it. But there is no reason to believe he will follow through.
Partly, the skepticism owes to de Blasio’s past failures and his propensity for creating catchy acronyms and massive boondoggles that amount to nothing. But it’s also based on the presence of Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks.
After opening that first faith-based shelter in my district, Banks told me that it would not be cost-effective to open these smaller shelters on a wider scale.
Let’s do some math. It took a one-time allocation of $35,000 to open the 15-bed shelter in a church, with additional help from the organization Breaking Ground. Meanwhile, there is a five-year, $61.8 million contract proposed for a 200-bed shelter in my district.
That contract breaks down to $5,100 per person per month, more than twice the average cost of rent in the surrounding neighborhood. No matter how many ways you try to crunch the numbers, nobody can convince me that that’s cost-effective.
When asked about his cost-effectiveness claim during last week’s conference, Banks said he was referring to the fact that the faith-based shelter in my district isn’t a 24-hour facility. Yet the pastor who runs the shelter has said numerous times that he is willing and able to operate the shelter around the clock, but DHS didn’t make that possible.
This is just the latest in a string of lies from Banks and de Blasio as they try to cover up the embarrassing state of homelessness in the Big Apple. Let’s not forget they tried to ship the problem to Newark and Jersey City and are now backtracking on that plan, too.
Oh, and they claim to want community input on shelter procurement for Turning the Tide, but they repeatedly denied suggestions from me and my neighbors and continue to work with the same property owners and developers who have made millions from building shelters throughout the five boroughs.
Time has run out for de Blasio and Banks to prove they can meaningfully address homelessness. They are calling this new plan the Journey Home, but let’s hope they will take their own journeys home from City Hall — and never return.
Robert Holden is a member of the City Council, representing neighborhoods in central Queens.
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