After their first meeting on November 2, each of the 16 committee members were assigned specific aspects to research, including different types of legislation, what a service provider does, and the lack of affordable housing stock.
Others were asked to look into the reasons and conditions for rising homelessness, such as the right to shelter law, cases of domestic violence, mental health issues, and poverty.
“Providing for a homeless person or family is more than just giving them a roof, there should be services involved with helping these people get back on their feet,” Fedkowskyj said at the board's November meeting. “There are a lot of moving pieces to this puzzle, but it seems it’s falling short in some areas. We just need to better understand the process.”
The goal is to find long-term solutions to a problem that is plaguing a record 60,000 people in New York City.
But Fedkowskyj recognized that there’s no singular answer to a complicated issue. Once a person or family becomes homeless, they are placed in a shelter system and require services that are anything but simple.
“There are so many variables to this,” he said. “We couldn’t just look at one part and say that’s what we’re going to focus on, then we fall short on really understanding the entire problem and how the system works.”
He criticized the city’s current homeless policies as woefully inadequate. Community Board 5 already passed a resolution against the Department of Homeless Services (DHS)’s proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter.
“The short term approach to this is what the city is doing, and we just don’t find that acceptable,” Fedkowskyj said. “Something is wrong with the way the system works and it’s a systemic issue.”
That’s why the committee is taking its time to compile information. Fedkowskyj said they don’t necessarily have a timeline or a deadline to figure out solutions to a problem that has escalated in the last decade.
“We’re going to be a think tank at this point, and we’re going to discuss what it is we find,” he said. “Maybe it’ll lead to more questions, which leads to more research.
“We’re not going to rush through it just to get through it,” Fedkowskyj added. “We’re going to take our time and be precise about what we want to present as a position of the community board.”
One piece of proposed legislation the committee is looking into is Home Stability Support, a $450 million per year plan pushed by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of Forest Hills. The proposal would create a new rent subsidy to keep people in their homes, which may prove more cost-effective than the use of shelters or hotel rooms.
Though Fedkowskyj said he still needs to look further into the details, he’s already impressed by what he has heard. He wants to invite Hevesi to a committee meeting to discuss the plan.
“At this point, all I do know is it’s meant to keep people where they live and in their neighborhoods, so kids can continue to go to their same schools and the continuity and quality of their life doesn’t change,” he said. “I think it can work.”
But while the committee searches for answers, more homeless families may enter the shelter system. Fedkowskyj said the committee “feels the pressure” from what’s going on in the community and around the city.
He acknowledged that on an emergency basis, homeless shelters should be used. If someone’s house burned down, or if a mother and child were victims of domestic and child abuse, they should be able to have a place to live temporarily.
The question then becomes what is considered short term, and what kind of services should they receive in the meantime?
“We want, as a city, to be able to accept that person and child and to find them shelter, we’re not opposed to that,” Fedkowskyj said. “If a hotel is where they end up, that’s where they end up, but they shouldn’t be just be left there. There needs to be a process in place to service that family.”
The committee was created months after the city first proposed the homeless shelter in Maspeth, which sparked nightly protests from opponents. The demonstrations went after the shelter plan, the de Blasio administration’s policies, and even local elected officials.
Fedkowskyj said when the committee met for the first time, he made clear that their goals would be different from the protests, even if the issue in Maspeth is what sparked the group’s creation.
“If people are associating us with the protesters, they’re wrong,” he said. “I mean no disrespect to the protesters because they’re doing what they believe is right. Everyone has a right to do that, but the work we’re doing has nothing to do with the protesters.
“The work we’re doing is about potentially solving the problem and creating solutions for a long-term problem of homelessness in the city and state,” Fedkowskyj added. “That’s what our objective is.”
Although there are leaders of the protests who sit on the committee and the community board, Fedkowskyj assured that he made the committee’s missions clear. Their objective is to work with anyone who can provide solutions, even Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration, he said.
“We are ready to do that, as long as it’s fair,” he said. “I’m ready to do that any time that he is.”
Fedkowskyj said he wants the narrative of the committee to be one of caring and compassion.
“We’re not closing ears to what is part of a system that is failing a lot of people,” Fedkowskyj said. “We are open to ideas and listening to those that want to share their research with us. We’re not going to better understand what’s going on unless we do that.”
Members of the committee will get a chance to share their thoughts and research at the next scheduled meeting on December 7. Though it will be a long and arduous process, Fedkowskyj said he’s hopeful that they will eventually find some answers.
“We have some dedicated people in this committee that want to understand this better and want to help find real solutions to a long-term problem,” he said. “We’re dedicated and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”