NEW YORK (AP) — On the eve of Pope Francis' visit to New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly invoked the pontiff's call to aid the poor while announcing a partnership with the Archdiocese of New York to provide 150 new beds for those living on the street.
The 150 beds would be located in facilities owned by the Archdiocese of New York and are part of a program dubbed Opening Doors, a collaboration with religious organizations to provide 500 additional beds this winter.
"Pope Francis is calling us to action," said de Blasio, who made the announcement with Cardinal Timothy Dolan at a church-run shelter in the Bronx. "He's asking all of us to do more to help those in need. We're reaching farther."
The program is one of several steps the city has taken to address a homelessness crisis that has received growing attention in the media and presents a political problem for de Blasio. There are about 57,000 people living in shelters, down from a high of 60,000 last winter but up from when de Blasio took office in January 2014.
There are also believed to be a few thousand people living on the street. Currently, faith-based groups provide 672 beds around the city.
De Blasio has frequently invoked the pope as an inspiration for his battle with income inequality in the nation's largest city. He has called the pontiff the world's "moral leader" on issues like climate change and help for the poor.
The mayor, whose mother was a lapsed Catholic, has said he is "spiritual" but does not subscribe to any organized religion. But he has often touted the work faith groups do as agents of social change and he has struck up a close bond with Dolan, the popular and boisterous head of the New York Archdiocese.
De Blasio is expected to attend nearly all the pope's events once the pontiff arrives in New York on Thursday afternoon. Among the items on Pope Francis' packed itinerary are a Mass at Madison Square Garden, a prayer service at the Sept. 11 memorial and a visit to an East Harlem school filled with students from low-income families.