|Good thing this place is private!|
The mayor’s plan arrives at the precise moment that the City Council has introduced a package of bills known as “fair share” legislation, the goal of which is to shape the city so that both social assets and social responsibilities are distributed according to a sense of geographic equity. Just as poorer neighborhoods should include more good things — parks, libraries — affluent neighborhoods should help shoulder the burden of shelters, waste transfer sites and so on, the logic goes. If the Rikers Island complex were to close, for example, smaller jails would pop up around the city, and they would need to be in Forest Hills, Queens, as much as they would in the South Bronx.
The de Blasio plan calls for shelters to be created in the neighborhoods where homeless people come from, so they can be as near as possible to the schools their children might attend, and to family and friends who could offer support. To whatever extent that might seem to limit disruption, fair share advocates believe such an approach only exacerbates the problems of concentrated poverty.
“If a school has so many homeless and low-income kids, it’s hard for a school to do well,” said Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who backs the legislation. “When things are borne fairly, we pay more attention to them doing well. It’s sort of the opposite of Rikers. When something is out of sight, we’re more likely to do it in ways that are problematic.”
Beyond that, building shelters in more affluent communities puts homeless children in proximity, potentially, to better schools. And as fair share legislators point out, the city hasn’t been doing a very good job of keeping homeless children close to their schools when they enter the shelter system. According to a study from the city’s Independent Budget Office, the percentage of homeless families placed in a shelter near their youngest child’s school declined to 53 percent in 2015, from 83 percent in 2011.
If fair share legislation passes, Mr. de Blasio will have to sell neighborhoods hesitant about accepting homeless shelters on the idea that economic integration is a good idea, vital to civic health. Does he have the charm to do this?