NEW YORK - Mayor Bill de Blasio released a plan Tuesday to get nearly all of the estimated 3,600 people who are living on New York City streets and in the subway system into shelters and homes within five years.
The Democratic mayor's plan to "end street homelessness as we know it" includes adding 1,000 new "safe haven" beds in houses of worship and 1,000 new apartments earmarked for homeless people.
City officials say the 3,600 people living on the streets and subways represent just 5% of the city's total homeless population of more than 70,000.
Some 18,000 city employees from several departments are being trained to document street homelessness and to use the 311 information system to match people living on the streets with services.
Because many of the street homeless have mental health and substance abuse problems, the plan includes access to medical and mental health services managed by non-profits.
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The problem of street homelessness in New York City came into sharp focus in October when a homeless man, Randy Santos, allegedly bludgeoned four other men to death in Chinatown. Santos, 24, has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.
De Blasio said that under the plan, police officers will engage with people living in the subways system "with a focus on diverting individuals from the criminal justice system towards outreach services and supportive programs."
But Giselle Routhier, policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, said it's misguided to use the police to conduct homeless outreach in the transit system.
"If we can overcome the rising mistrust that is an inevitable byproduct of NYPD’s increasing contact with homeless people, we should begin to see real progress in reducing the tragedy of street homelessness with these new housing resources," she said in a statement.