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Attempts To Get Homeless Into Shelters Fail 99 Percent Of Time, Data Show

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With the city's streets, parks and subways once again inundated with homeless people, there has been a startling discovery.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, outreach efforts to get the homeless into shelters often fail – 99 percent of the time.

One homeless woman named Sarah regularly begs for money outside Madison Square Garden. She said city workers come and ask her to get help and go to a shelter "all the time."

When asked why she does not go to shelters, she said, "I don't trust no shelters… because a lot of stuff happens."

The woman is a prime example of what city outreach workers are up against, and why New Yorkers see so many homeless in the street.

CBS2 discovered the lack of success is stunning.

Only 1 percent agree to go to shelters despite a $74 million budget.

Former Department of Homeless Services Deputy Commissioner Robert Mascali said the city "needs to do a total reevaluation of the whole outreach operation, because 1 percent in my mind is not acceptable."

Mascali said the city's outreach numbers speak for themselves.

Of 4,084 contacts with the homeless between July 12 and Aug. 8, just 22 agreed to go into a shelter. It amounted to a success rate of less than 1 percent, Mascali said.

Commuters walking past the homeless at Penn Station do not like it one bit.

"Only 1 percent of the time? I'm sorry about that – it's not acceptable," said Sister Pat.

"It's not acceptable," added a man named Howard. "More should be done.

"(Mayor Bill) de Blasio has basically decided not to do anything about it, and if they actually pushed them to go where they're supposed to go, then the streets would be more safe and more people would want to come here," said Matt Walsh of Summit, New Jersey.

Actually, that is part of the problem, Kramer reported. Under state law, the homeless cannot be forced into shelter unless they are a danger to themselves or others – like when it is very cold outside.

The legislature and the governor could change the law. But officials who spoke to Kramer said it would be very difficult to formulate a law that would not infringe on a person's constitutional right to be free.

Human Resources Commissioner Steve Banks said it is excruciatingly difficult to convince the street homeless to come in out of the cold.

"From the point of view of our frontline staff, our clients, and New Yorkers in general, we all know more work needs to be done, because the process of bringing someone in off the streets isn't a single conversation," Banks said. "Sometimes it works, and that's almost like a miracle. More typically, it may take 50, 60 or more contacts."

This as the city has added 200 outreach workers and 220 new Safe Haven beds.

Joe Hallmark, associate director of Goddard Riverside – a group that does the outreach – said the solution is housing.

"We have a long way to go with affordable housing," Hallmark said.

But even more housing does not address those with mental health issues.

CBS2 attempted to compare New York's outreach efforts with those in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston. Officials in those cities said they do not keep those kinds of records.

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