New York’s growing homelessness should be a major mayoral issuePosted on October 21, 2013 | by Harry Brown
Homelessness has become a sad fixture of modern life. Tonight, over 55,000 New Yorkers will be sleeping in shelters throughout the city, others on the streets. Of them, 21,000 are children. New York City — often commended for its progressive ideals and forward thinking — lags behind other cities in combating this plight. The city must do more to achieve access to affordable housing and reduce the level of homelessness.
In the last decade, the number of homeless in the city increased by an alarming 73 percent, according to a report released by the Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless families in the city represent one-sixth of all families in shelters throughout the nation. Ever-increasing rent costs, exacerbated by the financial crisis, have forced poorer families out of their homes, without any affordable alternative. Research has concluded that New York state could save $67 million in shelter costs if it supplied an attorney to residents facing eviction. Indeed, a South Bronx trial program that provided legal aid to 1,200 families stopped 86 percent of potential evictions. Furthermore, the program, which ran from 2005 to 2008, cost $450,000 and saved the government over $700,000 in shelter costs.
The next mayor must tackle this crisis head on. It is an epidemic Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to adequately address. A new plan released by United to End Homelessness offers a series of achievable suggestions, which have the capacity to resolve the homeless upsurge that has struck the city. One of the measures proposed should be implemented immediately by increasing the funding for HomeBase — a program designed to prevent homelessness from occurring by providing a range of services, from access to health care and mental health services to short-term financial aid. The program has been rightly deemed a “model of innovation” to prevent homelessness but has been stymied by a budget limiting its scope of helping families on the brink of eviction.
In times of crisis, such as Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers have the remarkable capacity of coming together through adversity. There are countless stories of residents assisting complete strangers, who just required a hot meal and a safe place to rest for the night, because it was the right thing to do. However the homeless have become invisible to us, a tragedy on the sidewalk that we have chosen to ignore. It’s a neglected crisis, one which can be fixed with just a fragment of the energy and humanity which arose to deal with the aftermath of a devastating storm. The time has come to help the forgotten voices of New York.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 21 print edition. Harry Brown is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.