On May 4, councilmen Robert Holden, Joseph Borelli and Eric Ulrich penned a letter urging the mayor to replace Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Steven Banks, citing the agency’s “failures” during his six-year tenure.
The “most damning” result has been the continued rise of the homeless population in New York City, they wrote. The legislators blamed Banks for using the Right to Shelter law “as an excuse” for building dozens of new “warehouse-like shelters” they say only perpetuate the cycle of homelessness.
As the street homeless population also increases, they said, subway trains and stations have become “filled with homeless individuals,” which led to the closing of overnight service. The homelessness issues have come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, they argue.
“Clearly, Commissioner Banks should have taken a more aggressive outreach approach on the subways a long time ago to convince people to accept help,” Holden said in a statement. “He chose to let this problem fester for his entire six-year tenure, and only a global pandemic could finally open his eyes. His time is up.”
Ulrich said in his own statement that for years the commissioner declined to provide outreach to the homeless people living in the subways, which he called “a disgrace.”
“All New Yorkers know it’s time for Mayor de Blasio to replace Commissioner Banks with someone who will take the homeless situation seriously,” he said.
The letter concluded by blaming the “years of mismanagement, incompetence and excuses” on Banks, who they said was “unprepared to handle” the crisis.
“Moving forward, DHS will significantly need to alter its approach to housing the homeless after the pandemic is over,” they wrote, “and we suggest replacing Steven Banks with someone who actually has the vision to tackle the root causes of homelessness.”