National News

Mayoral Hopefuls Stake Out Positions on Homelessness

The problem of homelessness is prevalent in many cities across the U.S., New York included. (Photo: Unsplash)

WINDSOR TERRACE — New York City’s next mayor will inherit the persistent problem of homeless citizens, and growing pressure to come up with solutions.

The three major mayoral candidates — Democrat Eric Adams, Republican Curtis Sliwa and Conservative Bill Pepitone — have offered a wide range of ideas.

[Related: Churches Carry On With Mission to Help Rising Number of Homeless]

“Solving this crisis is personal for Eric, who faced homelessness as a young man,” said Evan Thies, director of communications for the Adams campaign.

Thies said Adams plans to tackle the issues of housing, mental health, and the drug abuse crisis simultaneously. A key part of that plan is to try to prevent homelessness from happening.

“He believes we need to keep people in their homes in the first place by expediting eviction relief, ensuring landlords take housing vouchers — and increasing the value of those vouchers — and creating affordable housing any way we can,” Thies said.

An Adams administration would seek to bring supportive services together with housing for the mentally ill and for people struggling with substance abuse, the spokesman said. Under that plan, hotels in the city that are shuttered and vacant would be converted into supportive housing.

Along those lines, Adams would also work to stop “the revolving door of street homelessness” by expanding programs like Fountain House. That Manhattan facility provides therapeutic social settings for people living with mental illness and transitioning to non-therapeutic settings, Thies said.

Sliwa said that many people experiencing homelessness are also dealing with addictions to drugs and alcohol, and that the city should be doing more to help them. He called for the return of Camp LaGuardia, an upstate New York facility that operated from 1934 to 2006 and provided drug and alcohol rehabilitation and job training. The camp was named after Fiorello LaGuardia, who served as New York’s mayor from 1934 to 1945.

“The concept was to keep them out of New York City where the temptations are all around them,” Sliwa explained. “Upstate, they couldn’t find ways to feed their beast.”

After receiving rehabilitation and job training, the person could return to the city, the Republican candidate said, adding: “The transition was a lot better for the individuals than if you try to do it within the city itself.”

Sliwa said he would open more single-room-occupancy hotels — but not unless they are supervised. He also called for empty commercial spaces to be converted into affordable housing.

Pepitone wants to shake up the city’s Department of Homeless Services, which he says “needs a complete overhaul and a new direction because it simply is not working.”

He called for the creation of citywide counseling centers to assist people on the verge of homelessness. The centers would provide psychological counseling, job placement, and referrals to drug and alcohol treatment facilities.

“We have to be more proactive instead of just waiting for people to be displaced and putting them in shelters and turning around and walking away from them,” Pepitone said.

As mayor, Pepitone would place counselors in supportive housing to provide on-site assistance for the formerly homeless to re-start their lives. “I want to get away from the shelter system,” he said.