NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a new program to get the homeless off the streets, an “If you see something, say something” plan that deputized thousands of city workers to call 311 when they see unsheltered homelessness.
Under Outreach NYC, the front-line employees, from various city agencies, will be trained to request homeless outreach assistance when they come across someone in need, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The city also plans to hire 180 additional outreach workers to encourage more people to seek shelter, with a focus on empathy.
Watch: De Blasio Unveils Outreach NYC Program:
They are the men and women the mayor has enlisted in his new army to fight street homelessness — sanitation workers, building inspectors, firefighters. In all, 18,000 city workers will be trained to spot the homeless and report their location.
“Think of it this way, whatever you do during your day as part of your job,” de Blasio said. “When you are riding around the neighborhood, walking around the neighborhood, if you see someone homeless we want you to stop right there and make a call.”
The workers will be trained to use a 311 app to notify a command center that can send teams to deal with the homeless. Dealing with the street homeless has proven to be one of the city’s most intractable problems. Officials estimate there are 3,500 men and women on the street at any given time, a number that seems to remain the same even though Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks insists the city has convinced 2,200 homeless since 2016 to accept placement in a city facility.
There are more than 60,000 people in shelters citywide.
Officials admitted it’s difficult for the homeless outreach workers to convince the homeless to come in out of the cold. They said sometimes it could take hundreds of attempts.
“Persistent progress. We’re not being dishonest in saying we’re going to promise you a rainbow,” de Blasio said.
The city’s own numbers show how difficult it is. Kramer told the mayor she looked at some numbers that indicated the outreach people had contacted 313 homeless on Tuesday, yet only 13 agreed to come in.
“Thirteen in a day is actually a really good day when your dealing with folks with this level of problems,” de Blasio said.
Banks said the homeless won’t accept services because they don’t trust government.
“They’ve had bad experiences, so rebuilding the trust is what takes the daily persistence,” Banks said.
Coalition For The Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier On The Mayor’s Plan
But Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said it’s not about building trust.
“It’s a question of building housing and resources, because if you come to someone who is on the streets and say, ‘Hey, I have a viable path into housing for you,’ that in and of itself is going to help you build trust with people,” Routhier said.
Routhier also claims the new program is nothing more than mass surveillance, intended to drive the homeless out of sight but not solve the problem.