To the editor:
While New York City grapples with plummeting temperatures, it can be easy for us to take our everyday blessings for granted and allow our homeless neighbors to fade into the background of day-to-day life.
But the reality is each night, thousands are braving the cold and sleeping on the street, and more than 63,00 people — including 23,000 children — sleep in city shelters.
We are in the midst of the worst homelessness crisis since the Great Depression, prompted by an exploding cost of living, stagnating incomes, and an extreme shortage of affordable housing.
A record-breaking crisis like this requires us to come together as a community and use all of the tools at our disposal to aid our suffering brothers and sisters. That is why more than 100 faith leaders have decided to join the House Our Future NY campaign and call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to do what is right and increase the total number of housing units for the homeless in his signature affordable housing plan, Housing New York 2.0.
Reducing homelessness starts with providing decent shelter to those in need, but it ends with providing them with permanent affordable homes. The mayor’s current plan does not go nearly far enough to match the scale of the recent crisis: Of the 300,000 units of housing to be created or preserved by this plan, a mere 5 percent will be allocated for homeless individuals and families.
To really make a dent in this crisis, we urge Mayor de Blasio to increase the total number of housing units created for homeless households to 30,000, with 24,000 of those units to be created through new construction — 20 percent of all new construction.
It is our moral obligation to help our neighbors get back on their feet and into permanent homes of their own. Somewhere along the road, society normalized the perception of homelessness as an intractable problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know how to solve homelessness. People provided with stable permanent and affordable homes leave homelessness and are highly unlikely to return to shelters, unlike those provided with mere stopgap, short-term assistance.
Mayor de Blasio’s insufficient action in the face of this crisis surrenders ground we cannot afford to lose. As one proud of his progressive resume, he must be persuaded that only through truly bold action can we change course and bring our housing response to the scale needed to help the thousands of our neighbors who have fallen into homelessness.
In a city as diverse as ours, with people of many faiths, we are united in one call grounded in our faith traditions that demands that we stand with those who are suffering.
The poor huddled masses can no longer continue to be overlooked. We wish the mayor strength and guidance for the difficult, but crucial, work ahead, and trust he will do what is right.
Rev. Peter Cook
Rev. Robert Foltz-Morrison
Rev. Cook is the executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, while Rev. Foltz-Morrison is executive presbyter for the Presbytery of New York City.