Reviews | As for the homeless, New York Mayor Eric Adams needs some religion

During his mayoral campaign last year, Adams said he plans to convert some 700 unused hotels into permanent housing. Hotel conversions have remained on hold since last fall, when the municipality’s justice department issued a technical ruling that includes occupancy regulations in hotels, which nonprofit housing developers say prevent them from actually turning hotels into long-term use. A spokesman for Mr Adams said legislation was needed in the state to allow the city to alleviate regulatory problems with hotel conversion. Fine. But this should be a priority, with the mayor ensuring all the help he needs from Albany to move forward with a vital and urgent plan.

Other units are available but sitting vacant, thanks to the tangle of dysfunctional urban bureaucracy that also demands the attention of Mr. Adams. Eric Rosenbaum – president and CEO of Renewal Project, an association that provides housing, health and work for homeless people – said the job of getting one person off the street and permanent housing could involve submitting paperwork with up to half a dozen. Defense attorneys that the units stand empty for months after a previous tenant passed away, due to delays with officials at the city medical office, who must sign before the apartment is put up again.

With rents soaring and a significant number of New Yorkers at risk of eviction, New York’s vast bureaucracy must be re-created to serve, at every agency and at every level, as a stronghold against the homeless. In just one example, the municipal agency responsible for combating discrimination against New Yorkers using housing security vouchers appears to have no staff, according to a report in City Limits. Mr. Adams should get to that.

For now, the most desperate scenes of the housing crisis are taking place in the public eye. Children sleeping in crowded carriages on the subway. People are battling mental illness and drug addiction outside of New York’s most iconic landmarks and in its famous parks. For the rest of the city, watching their suffering was always uncomfortable. These days it feels like a daily reminder of our fragility.

For weeks, workers from the New York Police Department, the Sanitation Department and the Homeless Services Department aggressively dismantled homeless tents across the city, forcing people to disperse. People who live on the street and the non-profit workers who serve them say the city offers largely help they do not want, like referrals to city-run city-style shelters that have a street reputation as both dangerous and stressful.

Homelessness is a troubling problem in public policy. But the basics are clear: the key is to deploy trusted social workers and other professionals to coax people into transitional housing and then permanent, safe and peaceful housing, and more importantly, including a private bed and bathroom – needs that anyone can address. Equally important is to reshape the city’s access to services like addiction treatment, trauma and abuse and mental health disorders so that it is truly accessible to the people who need it. This is the way forward, not to send sanitation workers who usually collect garbage to evict people from the road.

Outside the Church of the Savior last Sunday, Ivan Cabrera Jr. – 28 years old with golden skin, black hair shock and a horribly shiny smile that uses the nicknames “they” – said they have been living on the streets and shelters ever since. At age 17, when their parents kicked them out of the house because they were gay. They said they did not trust the shelter system in part because a friend was killed in one of the shelters several years ago.

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