This month, the city announced that it was ending the controversial “cluster site” shelter program. That’s great – it’s something we’ve spent a year and a half fighting for – but it creates another problem: what to do with all those apartments? And all those homeless people?
We think there’s a solution. And this week, homeless people and nonprofit housing developers stood with other stakeholders to unveil “Gaining Ground” – a new housing proposal to help transition away from the controversial model.
“This is a plan that will help all New Yorkers,” said Al Williams of Picture the Homeless. “Especially those who have fallen through the cracks of the current city programs. Gaining Ground will assist the mayor’s plan to create 200,000 units of housing, and to abolish the cluster site shelter system. There’s so much existing housing in need of rehabilitation, so many units that could house people with only a small diversion of shelter funding. There are 3,000 units in the cluster site program, costing upwards of $4,000 a month of your tax payer dollars for each one. That’s not sustainable. Those units could be housing. Gaining Ground is the way out. The past administration created this problem, and Bill de Blasio wants to fix it, but it’s going to be a difficult transition. He needs Gaining Ground. We need this man to recognize how this can help him fulfill his promises.”
The proposal complements the de Blasio administration’s “Housing New York” 10-year plan by providing a concrete road map to several key pieces of the plan. Gaining Ground advocates have been meeting with officials in multiple agencies and Deputy Mayor’s offices to map out a timeline for implementation.
“Gaining Ground is really important,” said James Metz of Picture the Homeless. “We can’t afford to be out on the streets anymore. You see all this snow? We have people sleeping beside filthy snowbanks. That ain’t right, and that ain’t what New York City is about. All these vacant lots and buildings – if we can get them away from crooked landlords, and into Gaining Ground, they can solve that problem.”
“I have housing, but I got involved because I saw all the cluster site shelters going up in my neighborhood and I know that’s not right,” said Janice Singleton, a member of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association. “These could be apartments, but instead we’re wasting money. DHS is not doing anything differently under this administration. We have a plan and we know how to make it work.”
“My shelter has rats,” said Lisa Millhouse, of Picture the Homeless. “It has mice. I could be living in a luxury apartment on Park Avenue for the money they waste every month on that hellhole. I’m sure Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t stay up at night, worrying about a rat biting him or his child. But I do. He just walked right by out here, and wouldn’t stop to talk to us, because he has nothing. His programs aren’t working. I have a city voucher that’s worthless because no landlords will take it. I’ve talked to over sixty real estate agencies, pleaded with them, and no one will accept it. My four year old daughter has anxiety, from what we’ve been going through in the shelter. We’re not asking for the whole billion dollars DHS spends on shelter every year. Just a fraction of that can fund the establishment of Gaining Ground. If the mayor wants to keep his word, this is how.”
“We acquire and develop property for neighborhood housing,” said Ken Wray, executive director of CATCH Neighborhood Housing. “We know what works, and Gaining Ground will work. Shelter costs more than housing. A tiny portion of the DHS budget can fund a pilot program to create real housing. This isn’t a model – we’ve proven that this works. Even if you don’t care about homeless people at all, think of it this way. By diverting shelter money, Gaining Ground can save millions of dollars a year.”
“Shelters are not the answer,” said Shaun D. Francois, President of AFSCME Local 372/DC37. “Funding permanent affordable housing is. Local 372 has members that are homeless and without homes due to rising rents and lack of affordable housing. I stand with advocates to ask Mayor De Blasio and the City of New York to help fund and support Gaining Ground. It is shameful that we have working people that are homeless.Build more housing instead of more jails. The need is here and the need is now. Let’s stop the nonsense and get it done.” [CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO OF MR. FRANCOIS’ SPEECH!]
“I am so excited to stand with all of you today,” said Larry Cox, co-director of Kairos: The Center on Religions, Rights and Social Justice. “Because there is such an urgency to this issue. There are still parts of this country where government decisions have poisoned children, through toxic water. And right here in this city, government decisions have forced people into squalid conditions, unsafe shelters, overcrowded housing.Gaining Ground is the solution. It would certainly save the city a huge amount of money to create housing instead of shelter, but Gaining Ground is not just an economic imperative. This is about basic human rights.”
“I’m homeless; I’m a person with a disability,” said Jazmin Reyes of Picture the Homeless. “The “affordable” housing they’re creating? I’ll never be able to afford that. Where is the housing for us? We’re tired. We’re human. I have two kids. We’re not trying to fault Bill de Blasio. We’re trying to work with him. Please, Mr. Mayor, meet with us. Hear what we’re dealing with. And adopt Gaining Ground.”