- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Faced with a rise in the number of homelessness in New York City shelters and seemingly more visible homeless on the city’s streets, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to hire more lawyers to help tenants avoid unjust evictions.

A series of new investments - by 2017, the city will nearly double what it’s spending now on legal protections for tenants - is the latest in a series of recent steps taken by the mayor, who has stepped up the city’s response to the homelessness crisis after a summer in which the problem created overheated headlines and prompted critics to suggest that City Hall was not doing enough on the issue.

“Our homeless are not a faceless burden, they are our fellow New Yorkers and they deserve our help,” said de Blasio, who acknowledged “the very substantial challenge of homelessness that we’re facing.”

Officials said the program will complement existing anti-tenant harassment measures. De Blasio, speaking at a City Hall news conference on Monday, said that a pair of legal programs to prevent homelessness will grow to $61.8 million by fiscal year 2018, up from $34 million now and a tenfold increase on what was spent on anti-eviction programs in fiscal year 2013, before de Blasio took office.

Officials said the program is available citywide but will focus on neighborhoods where there is increased rise of evictions due to gentrification, such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens and Harlem in Manhattan. The city has found that nearly 32 percent of the families in its shelters were evicted from their homes.

“Our answer of that is to stop homelessness before it starts, to reach people before they get too far down that spiral,” de Blasio said.

There are more than 57,000 people in city homeless shelters, an increase from when de Blasio took office in January 2014. There has also been an apparent rise in the number of homeless sleeping on the city’s streets but an accurate count is not available.

The rise of homelessness has presented a political problem for de Blasio, who has been subjected to a series of recent polls that indicates that concerns about the issue are on the rise as New Yorkers fear their quality of life has slipped.

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