NEW YORK — Melissa Joseph is learning her way around another side of New York City she never thought she’d get to know.
“I’ve seen a couple of things, people going through a couple of things. And sometimes it’s scary,” Joseph said.
One month ago, Joseph and her partner Daniel were what city officials call “street homeless” — men and women who are not in the city’s swollen — and some would argue, broken shelter system.
“They knew about us being in the street. And they actually wrote on the letter that they are homeless, and supposedly it’s not enough,” Joseph said.
Joseph's story has newfound relevance as Mayor Bill de Blasio struggles to recalibrate the city’s approach to the homeless crisis.
De Blasio announced a new initiative called “Home Stat” that will begin conducting unprecedented daily canvassing of every block in Manhattan — from Canal Street in lower Manhattan to 145th Street in Harlem.
“We’ll have the most up-to-date, specific data on the street population we’ve ever had as a city. And we’ll perform rigorous analyses of that data to determine what people need, what’s working, and what’s not — helping us take important steps to keep street homelessness down in the future,” de Blasio said.
The canvassing will also take place in “specially selected areas in other boroughs” — with no other specifics.
“Through home-stat, we are bringing all that information into one central together, so we can create and deploy an individual action plan to help each person on the street….here’s the plan to get them off the street. It will literally be a plan for each person," the mayor added.
But there is one concern: What will happen to the several thousand street homeless once they’re scooped up, and placed into the city’s shelter system?
Joseph and her partner already received outreach. On the last day of their 10-day emergency shelter stay, city officials declared them “ineligible” for shelter, forcing them back onto the street, even though they had help and a reference letter from Nikita Price, one of the lead executives at the advocacy organization, “Picture the Homeless.”
Joseph and Daniel are now living inside LaGuardia Airport — a place where nine months ago PIX11 News reported on the sizable homeless population.
“I think that the help is needed, definitely. But not just a person’s name. Take their name, and help them going through the system. For example, my partner needs a document that says that he has been he has been homeless,” Joseph said.
“Street homelessness is the aspect of the problem that we see most visibly. But we also have to remember we have sixty-thousand people in our shelters,” Councilman Torres said.
Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, whose district is home to the city’s only family homeless intake center and dozens of other shelters, gives the Mayor credit for turning his attention to street homeless.
But Torres said street homelessness is just part of a bigger problem.
“The hope is you can outreach to the street homeless, who are the hardest to house, and connect them to supportive housing. Which has built in social services. And the mayor is investing 2.5 billion dollars in the development of supportive houses. But the trouble with the mayor’s plan is that it unfolds over 15 years. So the problem is, the mayor’s plan is complete nine years after the mayor is out of office,” Torres said.