City records show that the number of people sleeping in shelters nightly this year averaged over 50,000, a number that a new report from the Coalition for the Homeless states is a record high “since modern homelessness emerged three decades ago.”
The report notes that these numbers do not include "the thousands of New Yorkers displaced by Hurricane Sandy, many of whom comprise extremely low-income households." The city testified last week that around 1,500 families are still in hotels, YMCAs, and shelters, but Patrick Markee at the Coalition said there are "obviously many more still doubled up with friends or family."
The report directly calls out Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and holds him responsible for the rise, alleging that had he not discontinued practices that existed under the previous three mayors, the "homeless shelter population" would not have "risen by a staggering 61 percent and the number of homeless families [by] 73 percent."
"Mayor Bloomberg's elimination of all affordable housing assistance for homeless families is a major factor behind the historic homelessness crisis," the report says. "Previous New York City mayors, from Ed Koch to David Dinkins to Rudy Giuliani, targeted Federal and City housing resources to help homeless families relocate from shelters to stable, permanent housing."
Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond called that accusation "misleading," noting that permanent housing funding, known as Section 8, was not cut by the mayor, but has been crippled by an absence of financial support from the federal government.
"You can't have a homeless housing program that is based on something that doesn't exist," Diamond said. "It's unfair to people in the shelter system to tell them this is the answer when it's not the reality."
A DHS spokesperson explained that "because it comes from the federal government we never know how many vouchers we will receive; it's a spigot that turns on and off at the will of Congress."
The spokesperson also added, "We are not facing the same economy that the previous three mayors faced, we are not facing the same federal resources that the previous three mayors faced. The Coalition needs to realize that it is no longer 1970, we are in a different time that requires different solutions."
Dispute over the Advantage program
According to Diamond, there are 25 percent less people entering the shelter system in February 2013 than there were in February 2011. The cause of the increase in overall numbers, Diamond said, is the loss of the state-funded Advantage program, which used to provide rent subsidy funds.
Diamond noted that the Coalition lobbied to shutdown the Advantage program, which he said would have granted DHS $150 million to help subsidize the rent of working homeless people moving out of the shelter system.
Bloomberg echoed that point at a press conference today, saying that when the state Advantage program was cut, the city lost federal monies as well.
The Coalition released a statement in response from the organization's president, Mary Brosnahan, in which she said that "Advantage families were returning to shelter in record numbers."
A DHS spokesperson emphasized the city's focus on securing employment for the homeless as "a self-sustaining, investing solution," and said the city has "seen nearly 20,000 homeless families go to work since 2010 with assistance from this administration," through various programs, work supports, trainings and education.
The spokesperson also said that New York City is unique in the nation because the city is "mandated by law and court order that every eligible homeless individual and family has a right to shelter."
In fact, families must undergo an application process to prove eligibility before they are given shelter, but homeless adults currently do not have to prove eligibility to stay in a shelter, though the city has been working in court to change that.
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