CM Mark Levine, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, and Dozens of Physicians: Don't Put Homeless New Yorkers' Lives At Risk

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NEW YORK, NY (07/26/2021) (readMedia)-- Today, the City begins transferring temporary hotel homeless shelter residents back to dangerous, overcrowded congregate shelters. In response, Manhattan Borough President Democratic Nominee and Council Health Committee Chairman, Mark Levine, and a group of physicians organized by the New York Doctors Coalition, including former NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, are sending letters to Mayor de Blasio urging him to halt.

Last week, when asked about vaccine skepticism, Mayor de Blasio said "When did everyone get a medical degree? Listen to the doctors!" Now, several people with medical degrees, including the mayor's own former health commissioner, are sharing their expertise. Will Mayor de Blasio listen?

Democratic Manhattan Borough President Nominee and Council Member Mark Levine sent his letter to Mayor de Blasio over the weekend. He writes:

"I write today regarding the urgent need to pause further transfers to congregate shelters as the Delta variant drives a rapid increase in COVID cases in New York City. A far better policy than transfers to congregate shelters would be to accelerate placement in permanent housing by immediately implementing the expanded voucher program established by Intro 146."

Passed by the City Council in May, Into 146 offers one possible solution to the homelessness crisis. Once implemented, it will increase CityFHEPS vouchers to cover the fair market rate, like the more effective Section 8 program. It will make thousands more apartments accessible to shelter residents, with eligible beneficiaries paying 30% of their income toward housing.

"Congregate shelters, where it is not uncommon to sleep 20-50 to a room, are incredibly conducive to the spread of the virus, particularly with a more contagious variant like Delta. The ventilation in these shelters has not been updated, nor has spacing been increased to the recommended 6 ft. Moreover, it is impossible to follow CDC masking guidelines while sleeping. This puts the lives of homeless New Yorkers at risk, and it threatens our ability to curb the spread of the virus in the city as a whole. We know that outbreaks in congregate settings can spread outside the walls of the facility, as has happened in Singapore and Britain."

The group of physicians, including Dr. Oxiris Barbot, write:

"People experiencing homelessness are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, as they are older and have high rates of chronic disease. Throughout the pandemic, individuals experiencing homelessness who were living in congregate shelters faced high risk for COVID-19 infection and mortality. One analysis by the Coalition for the Homeless found that through February 2021 the mortality rate for New Yorkers living in congregate shelter was 49% higher than the mortality rate for the general New York population. This increase was largely attributed to the spread of COVID-19 in shelters, settings where congregate living made social distancing impossible."

Both letters are attached.