More children and adults are homeless now than any time period since the Great Depression, according to a recent State of the Homeless 2013 report.
Produced by the Coalition for the Homeless, the report revealed that more than 50,000 people are living in New York City homeless shelters this year, a 19 percent increase from 2012.
The report focused heavily on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, highlighting that the homeless shelter population rose a cumulative 61 percent since Bloomberg took office.
The Bloomberg administration has increased expenditures on homeless shelters and services by 77 percent over his term according to the report. But Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless, said this may indicate a crisis-management strategy rather than one that seeks long-term solutions.
“The city is spending much more on shelter and services for homeless New Yorkers, but could save millions on shelter costs while at the same time reducing the number of children and families in shelters if the mayor would adopt permanent housing policies used by previous New York City mayors,” said Markee.
Bloomberg started his term with high ambitions for tackling homelessness. In 2004, he announced a 10-year action plan called Uniting for Solutions Beyond Shelter to reduce the homeless population. The plan enjoyed some early successes, cutting the street homeless population in half and the homeless shelter population by 18 percent in 2009.
However, in 2011 Bloomberg cut the Advantage Program, a rent subsidy allowing homeless people to transition to permanent housing, after losing state and federal funding. Bloomberg did not mention the issue of homelessness in his 2013 State of the City address.
The Bowery Mission, a local homeless shelter that serves an estimated 10,000 people a year, feels the effects of this mounting problem. The shelter is entirely funded by private donation and relies on volunteers to serve 600 to 700 meals per day. It has an 82-resident maximum but has been significantly over capacity this year, housing 177 people last Saturday.
“We’re in a desperate situation right now,” said James Macklin, director of outreach for the Bowery Mission.
Macklin, who worked at the Bowery Mission for 23 years, said he wished the city government would revise its program to alleviate the situation.
“If you’re doing a project for the city, you’re handicapped, because there are certain guidelines they force you to implement,” he said. “I think that it would be better if it would funnel some of the resources and take all of the restrictions off the people who are really helping.”
Macklin also cited economic reasons for the increase in homelessness — namely poor education, high unemployment and disproportionate wages-to-living expenses.
“We’re in a society today where you can either pay your rent and not eat, or eat and be homeless,” he said.
The Coalition for the Homeless has proposed a plan to reduce the homeless population, which included providing permanent housing resources and removing barriers for sheltering homeless.
“We are working with officials at every level of government to urge needed changes in New York City’s failed homeless policies, as well as meeting with candidates for mayor,” said Markee.
Veronica Carchedi is city/state editor. Email her at [email protected]