NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With the tragic death of two young sisters in a Bronx cluster shelter this week, and a record number of people living in city homeless shelters, Mayor Bill de Blasio is promising to unveil a new vision for solving the homelessness crisis.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, nothing points out the problems with the city’s efforts to deal with the homelessness crisis than this – the city seeking an emergency declaration to lodge homeless families in private hotels at a cost of nearly $80,000 a year.
“It’s unfathomable,” said former Department of Homeless Services Deputy Commissioner Robert Mascali. “I mean, I’ve been involved for 20 years. To think that, almost $80,000 a year for a family, is outrageous.”
CBS2 sought out Mascali, a homelessness expert, as the latest tragedy unfolded. Two young girls — 1-year-old Scylee Vayoh Ambrose and her 2-year-old sister, Ibanez Ambrose – both died after being severely burned by a steam leak Wednesday in their Bronx apartment.
The unit where the girls lived with their parents is a so-called cluster apartment being used by the city to house homeless families. In the wake of their deaths, Mayor de Blasio again promised to fix the homelessness problem.
“What we’re going to provide you also in the coming weeks is a vision of how we take it over the next few years,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio has whistled the tune before. On Oct. 26, he said of the homelessness crisis, “Some of the biggest tools and weapons we have to address homelessness are on the way.”
And although the number of people in shelters has continued to set records – with 60,686 this week – on July 11 the mayor declared that the shelter population had “finally stabilized.”
Since the mayor was coy about his latest new plans, Kramer put the question to Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks.
Kramer: “The mayor has been promising this for months. Where’s the plan? What’s the plan?”
Banks: “We need to add more purpose-built shelters, and we will be coming forward with our strategy for doing that shortly.”
When Kramer pressed Banks, he said he is developing a program to build more shelters in all the boroughs – in what he called a citywide solution.
“The new strategy that we’re putting in place, which is a borough-based strategy, to try to make it possible to place people in shelters whenever we can – close to the schools, close to employment, close to medical care – keep people as close to their communities as possible,” Banks said.
Mascali said it is a good idea to build shelters in local communities. But he said the mayor should have started doing it years ago when he took office. He said it could take as long as two years to find a site for a new shelter and then build it.