Could we solve the city's growing homeless problem without a shelter system? According to a report being released today by Picture the Homeless and the Center for Community Planning & Development at Hunter College we totally could. In a survey of just 20 of the city's community districts the groups found enough vacant housing to put up 199,981 individuals. Hey, it worked for the homeless guy squatting in Ann Curry's UWS townhouse...

According to the report, vacant buildings in Manhattan could house some 65,824 people alone. "We have proven that there are significant vacancies in the city. We have proven that we don't have to have homeless shelter system and no one needs to be sleeping on the streets," said Kendell Jackman of Picture the Homeless.

City officials, who say they haven't read the report yet (it is being released this afternoon), are skeptical—specifically of the number of vacant spaces the report cites:

Eric Biederman, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said with out detailed research into each location it is hard to draw any solid conclusion about the status of any property. Elyzabeth Gaumer, a top analyst with [Housing Preservation and Development], said what may appear anecdotally to be vacant may be occupied part time or be in the legal process of being re-developed. Gaumer added the city's research shows vacant proprieties don't remain idle long. "And a vast majority, within a relatively short period of time, actually transition back into occupied and active use."

Of course the trouble with tracking vacancies is part of the point of the survey—the groups want the city to start an official vacancy census, an idea supported by many City Council members but not yet by Christine Quinn. Meanwhile, the idea of housing the homeless in vacant apartments isn't too outlandish. HPD recently started "using stimulus funds to match low-income families with foreclosed homes" and the city is mulling sending homeless adults back to their last residences—with city-bought furniture for the home's primary residents.