HESS AT THE HELM

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Mayor Bloomberg made two key appointments last week, building on his homelessness and child welfare reforms. Robert Hess was named commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, replacing Linda Gibbs, who became deputy mayor for health and human services in January. Hess was recruited from Philadelphia, where he served as deputy managing director for Special Needs Housing. For the most part, homelessness experts there spoke highly of his work. “He has been a tremendous force–coming up with innovative solutions to help people move from streets to shelters into permanent housing,” said Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP), which provides free legal services to homeless clients in Philadelphia. Under his Housing First program, chronically homeless individuals get intensive services for mental illness and substance abuse, and are placed in apartments. Hess helped engage the private sector and other city agencies to eliminate homelessness, said Dennis Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and renowned researcher on housing and homelessness. “New York City needs more coordination,” said Culhane. Yet Hess has some critics as well. “His rhetoric is great, but little has changed for the homeless because of his role here,” said Phyllis Ryan, executive director of the nonprofit Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness. Cohen disagreed: “He transformed Baltimore, then he transformed Philadelphia in five years, and he will be up to the challenge in New York,” she said. “The issues are the same, although the scale is different.” Mayor Bloomberg also appointed Jennifer Jones as the city’s family services coordinator, a new position created after the death of Nixzmary Brown to help bridge the various social service agencies assisting families in need. Jones is a long-time Administration for Children’s Services staffer, who most recently served as deputy commissioner for communications and government affairs. (K. Angelova) [4/17/06]