Sampson Challenger Who Grew Up Homeless Says Mayor’s Homeless Initiative Doesn’t Go Far Enough

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Sean Henry (Source: electseanhenry.com)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative earlier this month to dramatically shrink the number of families living in the city’s homeless shelters, but a challenger to embattled State Senator John Sampson, Sean Henry, who spent his early years homeless, said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The mayor unveiled several new proposals to help crack down on homelessness. The flagship of those proposals is an $80 million rental subsidy program that would move families living in homeless shelters into affordable housing, with a portion of the rent covered by the program.

But that program will only help 800 of the tens of thousands of homeless families living in shelters, Henry said, and does not go far enough to address the problem.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

According to the candidate’s website, Henry is a Chicago native who faced homelessness as a teenager. He joined the U.S. Army in 1995, and attended Southern Illinois University. He moved to Brooklyn in 2000 to earn a master’s in Public Administration at New York University.

As a former homeless youth who worked his way up to serve as special assistant to the deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services, Henry appears to be staking a large part of his campaign on an anti-poverty message, a strategy that could earn the attention of potential constituents. While the district includes a broad swath of Sheepshead Bay, it also includes all of Canarsie and East New York, and a portion of Brownsville – areas with high rates of foreclosure and unemployment.

It also stands in stark contrast to the allegations against State Senator John Sampson, who was indicted last year for corruption. Among the list of charges is that he stole nearly half a million dollars from the sale of foreclosed homes.

Here’s Henry’s press release in full:

State Senate Candidate Sean Henry Calls for Even More Funding For Rent Assistance Programs

Henry, an advocate for homelessness prevention who was homeless as a teen himself, believes Mayor de Blasio’s program needs much more funding to fix the homelessness issue in NYC

Brooklyn, NY – State Senate Candidate Sean Henry, who grew up homeless and has dedicated his life to preventing homelessness, today said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to increase funding for rental assistance programs, while well intentioned, does not go far enough to help homeless families.

“It’s great that Mayor de Blasio understands that shelters are not the solution, but we need to be identifying and helping more than just 800 families a year when more than 12,000 families are staying in shelters every night. We need to greatly expand the proposed program so we can immediately help the thousands of families in need right now,” Henry said. “The goal should be to end homelessness completely. The funding as it stands now will not reach that goal.”

On May 19, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to create a new program to subsidize rent on an apartment so families could move out of city shelters. Over four years, it would be an $80 million program with the city and state splitting the costs. The mayor said the program would serve roughly 800 families each year by giving them a three-year subsidy on their rent.

The program is much smaller than its predecessor, called Advantage, which Henry worked on while at The Department of Homeless Services (DHS). In its last year, roughly 5,000 people exited the shelter system under the Advantage program. When it was defunded in 2011, it led to a large number of families returning to shelters.

Henry also knows what it’s like to be homeless. As an older child and teenager, Sean suffered from chronic homelessness due to the separation of his parents and the lack of job opportunities and economic mobility that his parents faced. These experiences with homelessness and poverty would later inspire Sean to enter public service and be a candidate for public office.

Henry started at DHS as in 2003 as a Program Manager. In 2005, Sean was promoted to Director of Homelessness Prevention Services and Special Assistant to the Deputy Commissioner where he partnered with community-based organizations to provide an array of homelessness prevention and income equality services. Sean left DHS in 2011 to provide consulting services to Hudson Guild, a nonprofit organization providing community-based services such as senior services, children and teen services, an arts center and a mental health clinic.