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May 4, 2020

Hon. Bill de Blasio, Mayor


City of New York
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

We are writing with regard to the failures of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) that have been
completely exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. After six years leading the department with little to
show for it, Commissioner Steven Banks has nothing new to offer our city, and he must be replaced.

While there is plenty of evidence of Commissioner Banks’ missteps during his tenure, the most damning
fact is that the NYC homeless population has continued to rise to all-time highs since you appointed him.
Rather than focusing on preventing homelessness and creating more affordable housing, Commissioner
Banks has used the Right to Shelter Law as an excuse to build dozens of massive warehouse-like shelters
that only perpetuate the cycle by creating environments that the homeless do not want to enter.

As a result of this failed plan that has not “turned the tide” on homelessness, the street homeless
population has also steadily increased, and subway stations and trains have become filled with homeless
individuals. Yet the homeless outreach teams deployed by Commissioner Banks will not compel any of
these people to leave the subways or streets even when they present a danger to themselves or others.
DHS also refuses to say how many people it has removed involuntarily for their own good. Clearly, the
DHS is trying to hide the fact that it is not removing our desperate homeless population from public
places.

The abysmal shelters and street homelessness have come to the forefront during the COVID-19
pandemic. The large congregate shelters have no ability to practice social distancing and are now
scrambling to move sick residents into isolated hotel rooms. Yet other homeless residents say there has
been no effort from DHS to isolate anyone who may have come in contact with those sick residents.

The street homeless are now cramming into subway cars at unprecedented levels due to MTA service
cuts, leaving transit workers and commuters fearful for their own health. In fact, for several weeks now,
many hospitals and businesses were forced to hire private bus companies to transport their essential
workers for fear that riding the subways will expose these frontline workers to the coronavirus.

It is abundantly clear that Commissioner Banks was unprepared to handle the current crisis our city’s
homeless population is facing. Years of mismanagement, incompetence and excuses have led us to this
present situation where a complete lack of transparency from the DHS is fueling public outcry and an
absence of safety for everyone involved.

Moving forward, DHS will significantly need to alter its approach to housing the homeless after the
pandemic is over, and we suggest replacing Steven Banks with someone who actually has the vision to
tackle the root causes of homelessness.
Sincerely,

Robert F. Holden Eric A. Ulrich


Council Member, District 30 Council Member, District 32

Joseph Borelli
Council Member, District 51