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Mayor De Blasio Announces Program To Address Homeless Problem

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday unveiled a multi-billion dollar program to deal with the city's growing homeless problem.

The de Blasio administration has been receiving a lot of complaints about the quality of life in the city and what many say has been an increase in the number of homeless living on the street, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

Indeed, as CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, numerous examples of the city's homelessness crisis have made headlines over the last few months – from a man who was spotted bathing in the fountain with soap in Columbus Circle to a woman camped out with her pets – complete with a cat litter box – on the Upper West Side.

Numerous homeless people have been seen sleeping underground, particularly at Penn Station.

Mayor de Blasio's plan to address the homelessness issue comes with a $2.6 billion price tag, aims to create 15,000 new housing units for the homeless over the next 15 years. It also aims to offer social services like mental and physical health care and substance abuse programs.

"The goal is to reach people in so many different ways, to address these issues that have gone unaddressed and in so many cases unspoken of," de Blasio said.

The city will also provide subsidies for nonprofits and developers for both new construction and the conversion of existing units, WCBS 880's Paul Murnane reported.

In exchange, those using the services would have to pay a portion of their income or a portion of any money given to them from the government, Burrell reported.

"Supportive housing" is seen by many experts as a best bet for addressing the homeless problem. It comes with in-house mental health, drug, and alcohol addiction programs.

Freddie Cox said he arrived at the Times Square Hotel in 1991 a broken, drug addicted man.

"But even though I had given up on myself, the people here didn't give up on me," he said.

As 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported, Cox is drug free and has been helping residents living in supportive housing run by the non-profit group Breaking Ground.

"This will be permanent housing designed specifically for New Yorkers who don't need just shelter, but need the support to get well," de Blasio said of his plan.

The new units would take at least 18 months to build and will not be finished until about four mayoral terms from now, and thus, the plan will not make an immediate impact, Kramer reported.

On Wednesday, a homeless man was sporadically sweeping the pavement at Balsley Park, on Ninth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets. He was going back and forth to check his possessions – including a discarded school desk near a bus stop where he sometimes breakfasts, and several piles of furniture and clothes in and around the park.

Even if he were among the first to qualify for Mayor de Blasio's new supportive housing program, he could have a long wait.

"Some will be online next year," de Blasio said. "It is a 15-year plan."

William Dagnino, 55 years old and homeless, told Burrell he applauds the mayor's efforts.

"I've been out here 27 years ma'am, in and out of shelters," he said.

"The organizations are making things better. They do the best they can," said another homeless man.

But he and others said off-camera that the city needs to work to address some of the issues that already plague existing shelters, like the safety of women and children, and providing adequate mental health services, Burrell reported.

"It will provide thousands of our most embattled neighbors with the best chance yet at transforming their lives for good," said first lady Chirlane McCray. "It is bold. It is ambitious, and it is laser focused on achieving tangible, long-term results for the people of this city."

In some areas, like the Garment District, signs have been going up asking the public not to give to the homeless after a similar comment was made by police Commissioner Bill Bratton last week.

"New Yorkers who are complaining so much about it, well, one of the things they can do is stop contributing to it," Bratton said.

New Yorkers have expressed disappointment in the mayor's efforts to curb what they see as a burgeoning homeless problem. A new New York Times/Siena College poll found that 62 percent disapprove of how de Blasio is handling the homeless, while 29 percent approve.

The poll released Tuesday also shows de Blasio's overall approval stands at 44 percent, down from 52 percent last December.

Kramer asked de Blasio if he had thought of "doing something like getting like a cruise ship or something like that, that would be a short-term solution where you wouldn't have to deal with community opposition."

The mayor replied: "I think we will get this done, because we have a lot of support on the ground. I have confidence that we will find locations."

Still, the sights of the homeless all over the city upset many of the mayor's constituents

"Mr. Mayor, your message to New Yorkers who are concerned about the homeless? What do you say to them today?" Kramer asked.

"This is going to change things for homeless people," de Blasio replied. "This is going to change lives in our communities. Look, I understand people's frustrations – obviously, they see people suffering, and we don't want that for our fellow human beings, and we understand that creates a pain for people."

Kramer said de Blasio appeared to be interested in one-upping Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The mayor and his supporters repeatedly asked the governor to chip in to build an equal number of homeless units.

"Please, from the bottom of our hearts, we need you to step up," Mary Brosnehan of the Coalition for the Homeless said in a message to Cuomo.

Aides to Cuomo pointed out that the state has already contributed more than $1 billion to existing homeless programs in the city. But the mayor wants more than that, and made a point of pointing out that "the city just did more," Kramer reported.

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