Streams

NYC Homeless Services Commissioner Resigns

Monday, April 19, 2010

The city's homeless services commissioner, Robert Hess, is leaving the Bloomberg administration after four years. Hess will be replaced by Seth Diamond, who supervises the city's cash assistance and food stamps program, which serves nearly two million people.

Hess, 54, said he has accepted a job at the Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps find work and housing for homeless people.

In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to dramatically reduce homelessness in five years, but despite major changes to the system, the number of homeless people, particularly families, has continued to rise. By at least one measure, the city's homeless problem worsened during Hess's tenure. In 2006, when Hess joined the Bloomberg administration, there were about 31,000 people staying in the city's shelters each night. This winter that number was as high as 39,000.

"Leading the department of homeless services is a tough, tough job," the mayor said in announcing the moves today. "We all know the bursting of the housing bubble and the downturn in the national economy was like a one-two punch on our shelter system."

The mayor noted that the number of homeless on the streets has been reduced by 29 percent since 2005.

The incoming commissioner, Seth Diamond, is a holdover from the Giuliani administration, where he was known as a strict enforcer of welfare reform rules and often clashed with advocates for the poor.

In his acceptance speech, Diamond said it's clear that the homeless who are able to work want to work.

“In the past year thousands of those living in our city's shelters have started working and we want to continue to support them with the assistance they need to move out of shelters and to greater economic independence in their own homes,” Diamond said.

Diamond begins his new job as the city moves to impose a work requirement in shelters. Working families will also be expected to pay a fee for staying in shelter. The agency also plans to reduce the size of a housing subsidy used by families leaving shelters for permanent apartments.

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