Asked yesterday for his thoughts on why the number of people in NYC homeless shelters is at a record high, Mayor Bloomberg said there's a simple explanation: Homeless shelters are simply "so much more pleasurable. We have made our shelter system so much better that, unfortunately, when people are in it, or, fortunately, depending on what your objective is, it is a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before." New York's shelters may not be as pleasurable as the fancy digs in Texas, but our homeless manage somehow.
On his weekly radio interview this morning, Bloomberg sought to "clarify" his statement by conceding that a homeless shelter is "not the Plaza Hotel." And yesterday his point was that his administration has vastly improved the shelter system, which "was an abomination" before he took office. "People were driven around all night," said Bloomberg. "The kids slept on benches. None of that happens again, so there’s less pressure on people to move out today." Maybe they should consider cancelling the turn-down service?
But homeless advocates are in an uproar. Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Mary Brosnahan said the remarks were "shocking and offensive," declaring that Bloomberg had "systematically closed every single path to affordable housing once available to homeless families.'' And Nicole Lee, a 22-year-old who has been in three or four shelters since April, told the Wall Street Journal the shelters were far from pleasurable: "Oh my God, you got rats, holes in the wall, critters, water bugs, roaches. Some places are too hot, some are too cold. They don't let you have an AC so it gets real hot."
The average stay for families in city shelters had jumped 30 percent during the 2012 fiscal year. According to the Times, more than 43,000 people, including more than 18,000 children, were counted in city shelters two weeks ago, an 18 percent increase from a year earlier. And the city added nine new shelters in the past two months, including a shelter in Greenpoint that some local residents are none too pleased about.
In response to Bloomberg's remarks, presumptive mayoral candidate and public advocate Bill de Blasio said, "When it comes to families facing crisis, our mayor seems to be living in a fantasy world. Families are staying in shelters longer because the city has absolutely no exit strategy for them. Mayor Bloomberg needs to own up to the magnitude of this policy failure."