[UPDATE BELOW] As the Dow Jones reached a record high today, we also learned that 50,000 people slept in New York City's homeless shelters every night in January. According to a report from Coalition for the Homeless, the number of children sleeping in homeless shelters has increased by 22%, to 21,034, in just one year. "More children and adults are homeless now in New York City than at any time since the Great Depression," the report states.
Recently the Bloomberg administration has been criticized for denying homeless families continuous shelter when the temperature drops below zero. According to the report, homeless families make up 78% of people staying in the city's administrative shelters, a number that has risen by 73% since Bloomberg took office.
The commissioner for the city's Department of Homeless Services told the Wall Street Journal that the economy was at least partially responsible for the increase in homelessness:
"The economy is nowhere near where it was," said Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services. He pointed to the end of a state-funded program that subsidized rent for people leaving shelters, which ended in spring 2011; homeless families have gone up 35% since, according to shelter records.
However, Mr. Diamond said fewer homeless families are applying to enter the shelter system now than they were two years ago. He said the city was working to find employment for the homeless, "a long-term solution."
Though major cities like Boston and Washington, D.C. have seen an increase in homelessness, New York's increase is the largest. At a recent press conference, Mayor Bloomberg denied that New York was in worse shape than other metropolitan areas: "We’re three to 10 times more compassionate than the other cities."
"Budget analysts, policy experts, advocates, and other City elected officials have shown that the City could both reduce the number of homeless children and families and save millions of dollars spent on the costly shelter system," the report states. "But to date Mayor Bloomberg has steadfastly refused to adopt this common-sense policy change."
[UPDATE]Capital NY's Dana Rubinstein gets Mayor Bloomberg's reaction to the report:
"The Coalition [for] the Homeless is not a reputable organization," he said.
"We are having fewer people coming into the homeless system," he continued. "They are staying longer. Why? Because the state cut the Advantage program out. When they cut their money out, we also lost the federal monies. Without those subsidies, people don't move out. So if you want to reduce the population, you've gotta go and get those monies back. Keep in mind, it was the Coalition [for] the Homeless that wanted to kill that program and hurt the people in the shelters. So it's a little bit disingenuous for them to start talking about it."
"The numbers are what they are."
Coalition for the Homeless responded in a statement from its president, Mary Brosnahan:
Rather than taking responsibility for his Administration's failure, Mayor Bloomberg continues to blame everyone else for record homelessness in NYC. Today, he blames the State and, ludicrously, the Coalition for the Homeless, for ending Advantage - even though Advantage families were returning to shelter in record numbers. Last week, he blamed mentally-ill men and women suffering on our streets for not wanting help - even though he’s still in court trying to make it more difficult for them to get into emergency shelter. He blames homeless families for trying to game the system - even though they clearly have nowhere else to turn. Mayor Bloomberg can try to deflect attention away from his disastrous policies all he wants, but 50,000 New Yorkers would not be homeless today if he had chosen to invest in the strategy of moving families into permanent, affordable housing that Mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani all used with success.
A record 21,000 girls and boys will go to sleep tonight without a place to call home. A more hopeful future for them depends upon Michael Bloomberg accepting responsibility for his role in the current disaster - and moving swiftly to restore permanent housing for our most vulnerable neighbors.