Fighting homelessness in New York City

Most records are meant to be broken. But when the Department of Homeless Services announced earlier this week that 59,698 people in a single night slept in a shelter, it wasn't the kind of record worth celebrating.

- Most records are meant to be broken. But when the Department of Homeless Services announced earlier this week that 59,698 people, in a single night, slept in a shelter, it wasn't the kind of record worth celebrating.

The DHS Commissioner is Steven Banks.  He says, "The most pressing problem is to keep a roof over people's heads and get people out of the shelter system and into housing."

Banks spent more than three decades addressing income inequality and advocating for residents with the Legal Aid Society. But his role as commissioner has made him a lightning rod for some, like in Maspeth, Queens where DHS is proposing a hotel be turned into an adult shelter.

"It's a problem that didn't happen overnight and is not going to be solved overnight.  We have to keep focing on making sure people have a roof over their heads every night.  It's a legal requirement in New York City but it's also a moral obligation to make sure our fellow New Yorkers don't end up on the streets," Banks says.

According to Banks, between 1994 and the present, homelessness has increased 115 percent in New York City. He says there are a number of contributing factors. Among those is the loss of 400,000 affordable housing units.

The de Blasio administration rolled out a plan five months ago focusing on investments on the front end, like $62 million set aside for legal services to prevent folks from being evicted. It also includes rental assistance to help bridge the gap between what people can afford and what rent are going for.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Banks says.

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