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Op-Ed: Working Together to Welcome Neighbors

Homelessness is one of the hardest issues we have to confront as public servants and partners in government. But working together to do so is more important than ever because homelessness impacts literally every community across the five boroughs, including our own constituents right here in Bronx Community District 7—often due to rising rents and stagnant incomes, not through any fault of their own.

If we’re going to succeed in this fight, it’s because we find ways to tackle these challenges together, collaboratively along with our communities, putting people and neighborhoods first in all that we do.

We must make sure our homeless neighbors can reside in safe, stable locations closer to the anchors of life and communities they last called home as they get back on their feet. That means implementing a borough-based approach and closing the 17-year-old band aid cluster program as well as commercial hotels used as shelters on and off since the time of Lindsay. We must also make sure our new, improved locations are integrated into the fabric and character of each neighborhood so that our homeless neighbors feel welcomed and supported as they stabilize their lives.

To that end, as we all strive to remake the shelter system, which grew haphazardly over many decades, the City is asking communities to help identify locations that not-for-profit providers can propose through the open-ended RFP procurement process. With clusters closing quickly, especially right here in the Bronx, this community district heard the call to action—and the City embraced their response.

We are proud to represent and work in partnership with a community that didn’t turn its back on New Yorkers in need. Rather than saying not-in-my-backyard, they did their homework, they advocated, and they achieved consensus, bringing a property owner and a not-for-profit service provider to the table while gathering the support of Community Board members and neighbors alike. Their dedication to do this is inspiring: they didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk.

Today, thanks to a productive, collaborative process with community members, we’ve identified a site that meets the needs of our homeless neighbors and community members alike. We’re proud to announce that we will be moving forward with not-for-profit service provider BronxWorks’ proposal to operate 3600 Jerome Avenue as a high-quality borough-based shelter, and we have notified the community of the intent to do so—bringing us closer to our goal of being able to provide our neighbors from this community who fall on hard times with the dignified support they deserve right here in this community. We are encouraged by the community’s engagement and are confident that, together, with their support, we will make this the best experience it can be for New Yorkers in need as they get back on their feet.

As we transform how we provide shelter throughout the five boroughs, we encourage communities to join us. Our shared mission to better support our neighbors in need depends on working together.

Steven Banks is the Commissioner for the New York City Department of Homeless Services. Andrew Cohen is Council Member representing the 11th Council District, which covers Norwood. 

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