In September 1991, New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins appointed a commission to study homelessness in the city. The panel of private-sector and government experts on the homeless was headed by Andrew M. Cuomo, son of the state's governor, and president of HELP, a nonprofit group he founded in 1986 to provide shelter for the homeless.

The commission's goal was to study homelessness, analyze its causes, and develop a mechanism for providing services to the homeless more efficiently. Helping the city's 24,000 homeless had been one of the mayor's campaign themes.

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