Today, April 8, 2022, Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary P. Jenkins spoke at the 178th CityLaw Breakfast on “Combating Homelessness.” Professor Ross Sandler, Director of the Center for New York City Law, provided opening remarks. Dean and President of New York Law School Anthony W. Crowell joined for a closing colloquy. This Breakfast was sponsored by ConEdison, Greenberg Traurig, and Verizon. This was the twelfth virtual CityLaw Breakfast as in-person events are not feasible at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioner Jenkins began his talk by discussing how he and his family faced housing insecurity after a fire, which necessitated a stay in a shelter for almost a year. This experience inspired him to pursue work in social services.
Overall, Commissioner Jenkins emphasized the importance of ongoing in-person engagement. According to Jenkins, it is much easier to provide services to someone who has come into the shelter system than someone who is out on their own on the street, because they can be fully evaluated and connected with the services they need. Working with vulnerable populations requires building trust and continuing engagement.
Commissioner Jenkins described the agency’s holistic approach to providing services, as clients will have different needs and different causes that resulted in housing insecurity, from eviction, domestic violence, fires, and rent outpacing incomes. He discussed the right to counsel law, which has resulted in a drop of evictions by 40 percent, and that over 500,000 New Yorkers have received legal assistance to maintain housing as a result of the law.
Commissioner Jenkins took several questions, including some that criticized the agency’s approach to encampment sweeps and the removal of property. Commissioner Jenkins stated that prior to sweeps, people are notified in advance as part of ongoing engagement. Those that went into the shelter system were provided storage for their belongings.
Commissioner Jenkins also discussed mental health treatment, the expansion of Safe Haven beds, and the ongoing relationship with the NYPD.
To watch the Breakfast, click here or watch below.