More than 250 New York faith leaders are praying for a holiday miracle: that the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York State can put aside their differences long enough to make a long-term commitment to addressing homelessness across the state.
Imams, monks, rabbis, priests and ministers have joined in one message: We must create 35,000 homes for the most vulnerable, those individuals struggling with mental illnesses, addiction and a lifetime of trauma. We are praying for a new and better version of the New York/New York Agreement first inaugurated by Gov. Cuomo’s father 25 years ago, one that makes a dent in the shared burden of chronic homelessness in New York City and begins to address it in communities across the state. It was the faith community as well as secular nonprofits that first came up with the commonsense solution to chronic homelessness about 30 years ago: offer those least able to navigate complex systems of care a respectful affordable place to live and the support they need to manage their illnesses and stay housed.
This concept — supportive housing — proved to be an elegant answer to a seemingly intractable problem and in their wisdom, state, city and federal agencies flocked to create more. Without doubt the most visionary such investment was initiated by Gov.Mario Cuomo who, in 1990 pressed then-mayor David Dinkins to split the cost of creating more than 3,500 units of supportive housing in the city.
Twenty-five years later, we are finishing the third of these New York/New York Agreements, which have been signed by both Democrats and Republicans and collectively produced nearly 15,000 permanent housing units with on-site social services. While this housing was first developed to serve individuals living with mental illness, it now provides the platform for veterans, young adults aging out of foster care, high-risk families and seniors to rebuild their lives.
Mayor de Blasio recently announced the city would “go it alone.” offering to invest $2.6 billion to create 15,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years. This is an incredible commitment – the largest in history, in fact – but we need both the governor and mayor to recreat the visionary pact Mario Cuomo and Dinkins first pushed through a quarter-century years ago. The genius and success of the NY/NY Agreements thus far has been the long-term partnership between the state and city. The proportional decrease in homelessness during the periods of these agreements has been the only respite, the only sustained solution for thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors.
When the late Gov. Cuomo and Dinkins signed that first NY/NY Agreement on that hot summer day in front of one of the earliest supportive housing residences, neither leader realized the program would actually save money, that it would be a game changer in the care of mentally ill people or that it would actually reduce the shelter population. They thought it would “cost a fortune.” But, as the first Gov. Cuomo famously stated that day: “If government can’t take care of the homeless, the mentally ill, and the people who are addicted, what is government for?”
Rev. Laura Jervis is the executive director of the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing. Marc L. Greenberg is the executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing.
Read the letter than faith leaders sent to the mayor and governor: