While elected leaders continue to play politics and unnecessarily delay the release of funds for supportive housing, thousands of New Yorkers are enduring the bitter winter weather on the streets or sleeping in crowded shelters. Supportive housing pairs the stability of a permanent home with on-site services for people dealing with mental illness, substance abuse or other special needs. Research has conclusively shown that this model both successfully ends homelessness and saves taxpayers an average of $10,100 per unit by decreasing the use of shelters, emergency medical services and other costly interventions. Despite the indisputable benefits, the Governor has still not followed through on the bold supportive housing commitment he made more than a year ago in his 2016 State of the State address.
Earlier this month, the Coalition and The Legal Aid Society presented joint testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Housing and Buildings on the efficacy of supportive housing in breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Our testimony also reiterated the request we’ve been making for months through persistent advocacy and more than two dozen weekly rallies outside Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office: State leaders must immediately sign a memorandum of understanding to release the nearly $2 billion for 6,000 supportive units and other affordable housing that was set aside in last year’s budget, but has since been sitting idle.
In an op-ed for Medium, New York City Councilmember and Chair of the General Welfare Committee Stephen Levin called for fellow elected leaders to fully embrace this research-backed solution to homelessness by quickly releasing funds for desperately needed supportive housing units.
Supportive housing is the way forward. However, the need far exceeds the supply. In New York City, for every person placed into supportive housing there are four more people waiting. The statistics are sobering. There are over 60,000 homeless individuals in the Department of Homeless Services shelter system. Thousands more are in specialized shelters for youth, survivors of domestic violence, and those with HIV/AIDS. These figures do not include individuals living on the streets. If we are to make progress reducing homelessness, we must be aggressive.
Much of the supportive housing in New York City has been developed through joint collaborations between the City and State. These are known as the NY/NY agreements. New York City has committed to invest in new units. The State has yet to fully deliver on a year-old promise to invest $2 billion in supportive housing. The failure to establish a new NY/NY agreement is a casualty of the politics between New York City and the State. In the meantime, tens of thousands of individuals and families are waiting for shelter.
Enough waiting. We know what works. The evidence shows that supportive housing is one of the best tools we have to address the crisis of homelessness. Let’s provide for our most vulnerable neighbors and set them on a path to long-term stability.