NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As New Yorkers confront the horror of the Chinatown rampage, there has been finger pointing, blame and the hunt for solutions.
There has also been a mea culpa from a city commissioner in the hope that the tragedy will be a turning point in the development of city and state programs to get the homeless off the streets, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks and Susan Herman, the director of the city’s controversial Thrive NYC mental health program, walked down a Chinatown street on Monday to place white carnations at a makeshift shrine to the four homeless men bludgeoned to death in Saturday’s rampage. A fifth victim remains in critical condition.
Banks, who has worked to help the homeless for much of his career, the last five as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s point man, admitted the city has come up short in bringing programs on-line to get the homeless off the streets.
“We weren’t quick enough ,” Banks said.
And after vowing to “never again” see another senseless attack, the Banks told CBS2 of plans to build more shelters, more supportive housing units and more safe havens.
“The tragedy here is that wasn’t quick enough and we’re going to redouble our efforts so people don’t fall through the social safety net like these five people did,” Banks said.
When told by Kramer that many people think there hasn’t been a sense of urgency on the part of the de Blasio administration, Banks said, “We’ve been urgent on this in terms of undoing policies that built up over many years.”
Advocates for the homeless say both Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have failed to keep promises to create housing options for the homeless.
“The state and city have not been doing enough,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless. “We need two things. We need the mayor to actually build more housing. We need the governor to follow through on a promise he made in 2016 to actually build 20,000 units of supportive housing.”
Supportive units provide on-site counseling and services to help those with mental health issues.
A spokesperson for the governor said Cuomo actually promised to build 20,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years. So far, 5,348 units have been funded and 1,426 are actually operational, Kramer reported.
The city has increased the number of supportive housing units from 600 in 2014 to nearly 1,800 today.
Kramer asked Herman a question her aides didn’t like: “Do you think people took their eye off the ball as the mayor was running for president?”
“I think you got the answer, Marcia,” the aide replied.
Meanwhile, George McDonald of the Doe Fund said the answer is to open more mental health facilities because many homeless, especially the street homeless, need that kind of assistance.
“I think we ought to consider an updated human model model for folks who need to go to mental health facilities,” McDonald said. “We need a little more than supportive housing at this point. We need a continuum of care that speaks to the depth of the illness that people have.”
McDonald pointed out that before the state started closing mental health institutions, there were 90,000 people in those kind of facilities. Now there are just 15,000. A spokesman for the state Office of Mental Health said it’s better to develop supportive housing because, “people living with mental illness thrive in their own homes and communities.”