Rates of homelessness in New York City are still rising. As of January 2013, Coalition for the Homeless reported that 50,100 people were homeless. Of those who were homeless, 12,000 were families and 21,000 were children. These statistics illustrate the highest rates of homelessness since the Great Depression.
Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in January of 2002, 61 percent more folks are sleeping in shelters. And beyond these statistics, thousands more are sleeping in public spaces, including subways, park benches, and sidewalks, each night.
Many attribute the heightened rates of homelessness to Bloomberg’s unwillingness to target the root causes of poverty. Throughout Bloomberg’s 11 year tenure, he has notoriously implemented band aid fixes by funneling more money into the shelter system while simultaneously cutting programs like Work Advantage. City Limits cited that since January of this year, the Department of Homeless Services has created 12 new homeless shelters, costing the city $722M. These costs are exorbitant and unnecessary. To save money and lessen rampant poverty, deviating from Bloomberg’s ‘crisis management’ tactics is imperative.
In the same City Limits article, the increase in homelessness is also attributed to the increase in eviction rates. West Bronx Housing, a community-based non-profit that works with tenants to prevent unnecessary evictions, has witnessed this increase firsthand. Between the months of July and October in 2010, West Bronx Housing supported 137 tenants battling eviction. Exactly one year later, they supported 240 tenants battling eviction. While the study’s sample size is small, the figures offer a snapshot of multiplied homelessness in recent years.
Many of the evictions are correlated to the loss of jobs as well as cuts in public benefits. Last week, the New York State Department of Labor released new data stating that 9.9 percent of New York City residents are currently unemployed. This statistic is even higher than unemployment rates from one year ago. Additionally, a major blow to housing in New York was when the City cut the Advantage program last year. According to the NY Times, the program benefited 15,000 families by providing them stable housing in private multi-family buildings. With the elimination of this program, many of these families were forced to return to the shelter system. We need new tactics that prevent homelessness and permanently remove people from the shelter system.
With an upcoming mayoral race, we are looking forward to a new mayor who will radically change Bloomberg’s homeless strategies. A few of the candidates have already offered their ideas. Speaker Christine Quinn, a longstanding proponent of affordable housing, is hoping to reopen lists for federal housing programs, such as Section 8 (there has been a freeze for years), as well as create more rental assistance programs to support folks as they leave the shelter system. Alternatively, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio would like to reinstitute the Advantage program and use city pension funds to create new affordable housing. As Bloomberg’s tenure ends and a new mayoral term begins, New York has an opportunity to reconstruct homeless intervention programs and expand affordable housing. Stay tuned for more about mayoral candidates’ plans for much needed affordable housing in our city!