For decades, New York City has exemplified vast transformation, ingenuity and innovation in its fight against homelessness, tackling the issue for both families and single adults. Since 1993, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has been tasked with leading this effort, and today, remains one of the largest agencies of its kind worldwide.
Originally part of the Human Resources Administration (HRA), DHS became an independent mayoral agency after then-Mayor David Dinkins sought to more extensively alter the City's homeless policies. As the 1990s progressed and DHS grew, City-run shelters were replaced with facilities operated by nonprofit organizations (under contract with the City); homeless New Yorkers received increased social services on-site, and shelters began targeting specific populations of clients to better address their varying circumstances and needs.
Yet, despite the sweeping changes being applied to the system, homelessness reform in New York City was only just beginning. With the start of the 21st Century, also came dramatic transformations that have directly improved the services available for homeless New Yorkers across the five boroughs.
Years ago, homeless families faced an overcrowded intake center, spending an average of 20 hours drudging through the intake process. Today, families at the state-of-the-art Prevention Assistance & Temporary Housing (PATH) intake center receive placements the same day they apply and benefit from an array of services offered on the premises.
In addition, with the installation of Mayor Bill de Blasio and DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor in January 2014, the City has renewed its focus on families in shelter, specifically concentrating on the needs of children, and seeking to minimize disruptions in their lives. By creating and executing Independent Living Plans (ILPs) for all clients, DHS embraces the distinct backgrounds of each household, thereby outlining key goals that are relevant to their success and acknowledging that homelessness cannot be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach. Above all else, DHS aims to help homeless New Yorkers return to self-sufficiency in the community, while equipping them with the tools they need to maintain long-term housing stability.
Concurrent to the evolution of the families with children system, services for single adults have also grown and transformed. Prior to the landmark Callahan v. Carey case in 1981, single adults were simply turned away once shelters were filled to capacity. However, as a result of the lawsuit, the shelter system rapidly expanded, bringing beds online to accommodate every person who needed one. Whereas approximately 100 single adults could be temporarily housed before the Callahan decree, today's system provides shelter for more than 10,000 men and women on any given night, expanding and contracting based on capacity needs. Furthermore, the modern-day system also accounts for individuals who live unsheltered throughout the City, taking into consideration that the street homeless population requires an array of customized services.
Often facing unique barriers to housing, including but not limited to substance abuse or mental health concerns, street homeless individuals have been historically less inclined to accept traditional shelter placements. Thus, in 2007, DHS redesigned its outreach strategies, aggressively tailoring assistance for this population and developing a new portfolio of housing options, such as Safe Havens, which feature more flexible rules and regulations. As a result of these measures, more than 4,100 individuals transitioned from the streets into housing over the last four years, with outreach teams continuing to engage individuals 24 hours per day, seven days a week, Citywide.
Every day, New Yorkers in shelter and on the streets overcome homelessness with the help of DHS and its non-profit providers. However, the agency also employs extensive homelessness prevention efforts through its community-based Homebase program. With storefront offices located in high-needs neighborhoods throughout New York City, Homebase has, since its inception, served more than 50,000 at-risk New Yorkers with customized assistance plans, helping them to remain stably housed whenever feasible. In the summer of 2013, DHS released the findings of a rigorous Homebase evaluation, an independent study that overwhelmingly upheld the value and success of the program.
Offering a comprehensive portfolio of services and programs, New York City addresses the issue of homelessness head-on, always meeting its legal and moral obligations to assist those in need. All New Yorkers should be proud to live in a City that prevents homelessness to the fullest extent possible, and one that remains focused on helping families and individuals transition back to homes of their own.