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Opinion: Helping New Yorkers rebuild their lives

DAILY NEWS - Commissioner Gary Jenkins

As the holiday season moves into full swing, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the collaborative efforts of our city’s municipal workforce and their nonprofit partners who have come together under Mayor Adams’ Subway Safety Plan over the past ten months. Together, we have provided a hand up for the most vulnerable, those New Yorkers who have been living unhoused.

The mayor unveiled the plan back in February, knowing that if we strengthened and reinforced our commitment to meaningfully and comprehensively assist the unsheltered to find better options, we could build a stronger and safer city and subway system.

To date, the city has succeeded in engaging thousands of unsheltered individuals through our outreach, more than 3,000 have taken us up on our offer for shelter. Currently, almost 1,000 of the most vulnerable individuals we have engaged on the subways since launching the mayor’s plan are still in shelter, receiving care that promotes stability and addresses the highly complex medical and behavioral health conditions many clients experience.

But numbers can’t show the entire human reality. One of our clients, a woman, was born and raised in Queens, and whose life took an unexpected turn that left her without a home.

Vulnerable, afraid, and alone, she took to the streets and subways, unsure of what to do to change the trajectory of her life. That’s where our outreach teams found her, and over time, earned her trust. They told her that the YMCA — which in partnership with BRC, one of our leading homeless services providers, could provide her own room, where she could safely restore her health, focus on putting the pieces of her life back together and regain her dignity.

With some trepidation, she decided to give it a try.

“I love how all the staff is warm and friendly when we enter the building, fresh fruit and food is always offered with a loving smile, and the room is warm and cozy when it is cold outside,” wrote the woman in a letter she sent to the mayor. “Thank you so much for helping me and for basically saving my life by giving me what I needed the most: a place to stay where I feel welcomed.”

This client, a lifelong resident of the city, and hundreds of once unhoused people like her are able to have these life-saving opportunities because our city came together to help her.

The Adams administration has and is committed to creating and sustaining more models of success like this which will enable all of us to come together, as the can-do New Yorkers we are, to help the unhoused.

Over the past year, and going forward, the city has made and will continue to make comprehensive investments in short- and long-term strategies that will rescue thousands more individuals like this woman, each with their own story, their own fears, and their own hopes. The mayor’s plan breaks down the silos and brings people together to ensure a seamless transition from the street and subways, to transitional housing, support services, and permanent housing.

Further, it addresses the systemic challenges that cause New Yorkers to end up in this position, from our mental health crisis to a severe housing shortage.

Helping this client and thousands like her to lead better lives is just a start. There is much more that can and will be done. But as the holiday approaches, it is a good time to take stock of our blessings and look to the work that lies ahead.

Jenkins is commissioner of the city Department of Social Services.

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