NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For months, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been under pressure to fix the burgeoning homelessness problem, most recently ousting the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services and unveiling a bold new plan to get the homeless off the streets.
On Friday, CBS2 Political Reporter sat for an exclusive interview with Steven Banks, the commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration, who is now in charge of doing something about the homelessness crisis.READ MORE: Brian Laundrie's Remains Found In Florida Nature Reserve, Officials Say
He said he is well aware of the problem.
“I ride the subway to work every morning,” Banks said. “And I see what people see, and I’m as troubled as anybody when I see suffering in the streets.”
Banks was selected by Mayor de Blasio to deal with what has become an intractable problem for New York City – the huge numbers of homeless people living on the streets, begging, and in general, prompting many to question whether the quality of life in the city has deteriorated.
“The problem of homelessness in New York City is not a one-size-fits-all problem. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” Banks said.
Banks speaks softly, but no one doubts his commitment to fix the lives of the poor. Just ask the six governors and the four mayors – Ed Koch, David Dinkins, Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg — he has sued as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
He wants New York to know two things about the problem of the street homeless – he is on it, and outreach will take time.
“It takes many efforts to get people to come off the streets. The path that led people to the streets is not a simple one,” Banks said. “And sometimes, it takes one, two, three, 50 times before somebody can be engaged to feel safe to come in off the streets.”READ MORE: Man Taken Into Custody After Shooting Just Steps Away From Bronx School
And while Banks has high praise for Mayor de Blasio’s new HOME-STAT program to deal with homelessness – a mixture of increased staffing, safe havens, and speedy response to complaints – Banks is also open to looking at other solutions.
Among them is a proposal by CBS2 homeless consultant Robert Mascali that the number of spaces in drop-in centers, which were slashed in half by the Bloomberg administration, be increased.
“We’ve got to look at the role and the place of drop-in centers to continue to play that almost way station to help someone come in from the streets, and go on the pathway back to a shelter,” Banks said.
Mascali on Thursday emphasized the importance of the drop-in centers.
“The drop-in centers are literally an oasis for the street homeless,” Mascali said. “They can come in, they can get food, they can get clothing, the can get showers, medical attention and meet with a social worker.”
Kramer on Thursday asked police Commissioner Bill Bratton about the value of drop-in centers, such as the Antonio Olivieri Center on West 30th Street.
“That was my strong recommendation to the mayor,” Bratton said. “A lot of what you see in the street is, if there were places they could go during the day, in out of the weather, where there were also services, at least they would be off the street.”MORE NEWS: Paterson Youth Football Team Gets $10,000 Gift From New York Giants, Dunkin' Donuts
Banks said that while a mix of services is needed to help the homeless, there will be zero tolerance for illegal behavior on the street, and police will be asked to enforce the law.