As we noted here last month, way, way back in August -- in the thick of what turned out to be a tighter-than-predicted mayoral election race -- Mayor Bloomberg was asked a question about record family homelessness, and this was his response:
"Bloomberg acknowledged there has been a spike in homeless families in the city and nationally because of the recession, but said there will be 'plenty of time' to debate this issue 'after the election.'"
By our count it has now been 78 days since the election, and Mayor Bloomberg still has not talked about (much less "debated") homelessness. Nor has he acknowledged in any way New York City's all-time-high homeless shelter population -- more than 39,000 people each night, including more than 16,000 children. Nor has he addressed his administration's failed approach to homelessness. And, most of all, the Mayor has still not laid out a new strategy for confronting record homelessness in New York City in the midst of rising unemployment and the ongoing loss of affordable housing.
Today the silence about homelessness was still deafening in Mayor Bloomberg's "State of the City" address. Althouugh he acknowledged the recession and problems like the spike in foreclosures, the Mayor mentioned the word "homelessness" only once -- and even then, it was only in the midst of a vague "to do" list for his third term:
"It ['doing the fundamentals'] means fighting poverty and homelessness with more innovative new ideas."
The problem, of course, is that many of the "innovative" homeless policies implemented during the Mayor's first two terms have proven to be disastrous -- like the deeply flawed (and ultimately abandoned) "Housing Stability Plus" program, and the City's ongoing referrals of homeless adults to unsafe, illegal boarding houses. In contrast, many successful policies from past mayoral administrations which actually reduced homelessness -- like the targeting of Federal housing assistance to homeless New Yorkers -- have been dismissed by the Mayor and his officials.
An example of this backwards attitude appeared in yesterday's New York Times, where NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess was quoted as saying, "We will not re-adopt failed policies of the past...."
Of course, the problem with that position is that, under past policies, there were far fewer homeless families and individuals than under the Bloomberg administration. So, once again, while it has been 78 days and counting, we look forward to the Mayor taking "plenty of time" to debate homeless policy. And we hope that what emerges is a new approach to homelessness that builds on proven, successful housing-based policies.
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