With homelessness reaching near-record levels, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced a new program designed to help people living on the streets. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
He's been taking a lot of heat for his handling of homelessness, and Mayor de Blasio says he is getting the message.
"I've heard the deep concerns of so many New Yorkers. I've heard them loud and clear," de Blasio said. "And every day, this administration is focused on addressing this extraordinary challenge."
To that end, the mayor announced the creation a special homeless force, called NYC Home-Stat. It will focus unprecedented attention, the mayor says, on people living on the street.
"The city of New York has to own this problem," de Blasio said. "We have to own it more assertively than we ever have. We have to reach the street homeless literally every single day."
The program calls for a daily canvas of every block in Manhattan, from Canal Street to 145th Street. Teams will also identify homeless hot spots throughout the city.
One hundred and thirty-seven staff members will be added to a street homeless outreach team, and the NYPD will add 40 police officers to its 70-member homeless unit.
Instead of counting the number of people living on the street once a year, it will be done quarterly.
The mayor is also promising New Yorkers that their own reports of homeless activity will be dealt with speedily.
"When you call 311, when you say, 'I see a homeless person in distress, I see someone doing something inappropriate, I see someone in need,' within one hour, a city professional will be there to address the problem," de Blasio said.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said he is interested in changing laws to also address the problem, like prohibiting panhandling near ATM machines.
City Hall was quick to announce support for the program from elected officials, business leaders, homeless advocates and a member of President Barack Obama's cabinet.
The mayor made the announcement at a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York.
The city will begin ramping up the program immediately. Officials say it will be fully operational in March.