New York City will implement a raft of reforms to combat its high level of homelessness, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday, following a three-month review of the problem.
In New York, the United States' largest city, around 58,000 people sleep in shelters each night, representing the largest homeless population for any U.S. metropolitan area, according to the National Alliance to end Homelessness. Nearly half of those homeless are children.
The changes announced on Monday are intended to address the issue in four key areas: preventing at-risk residents from losing their homes, moving homeless out of shelters and into permanent housing, improving conditions at shelters and reducing the number of homeless who sleep in the street.
"We know the status quo has not been working," de Blasio said at Bronxworks, a nonprofit that helps impoverished families. "We don't accept that status quo. Today begins a new approach."
The number of homeless has more than doubled from around 23,000 two decades ago and has remained stubbornly high, leaving de Blasio's administration open to criticism. New York's large shelter population is in part due to a landmark court case that established a "right to shelter" mandate requiring city authorities to provide housing for those without it.
In response, the mayor has proposed spending an additional $66 million dollars to fight the problem, though he said the organizational changes announced on Monday would lead to savings of $38 million to help offset those new costs.
The city's Human Resources Administration and Department of Homeless Services will report to a single commissioner and share administrative duties, de Blasio said, eliminating some bureaucratic redundancies.
The city will use data analytics to identify at-risk families and increase its use of legal assistance and rental aid to avoid evictions.
De Blasio also said the city would conduct more inspections of shelters and crack down on not-for-profit agencies that fail to provide safe and adequate shelters.
The New York City police department is already in the process of retraining so-called peace officers who share security responsibility with private guards at the city's more than 250 shelters.
The city is also reinstating a dormant program that provided domestic violence services in shelters, after the review found 60 percent of violent episodes in family shelters were due to domestic violence.
The issue gained more attention in February, when a homeless woman and two of her young children were stabbed to death at a hotel used by the city to house homeless families. The woman's boyfriend was charged with murder.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Andrew Hay)