Faced with evidence of record NYC homelessness, Bloomberg administration officials could acknowledge the problem and work on solutions. Or they could resort to denial and attacks on the messenger. Which do you think they've chosen?
Coalition for the Homeless' "State of the Homeless 2011" report, released this week, found that the number of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness has reached all-time record levels -- more than 113,000 people turning to shelters during the last fiscal year -- and the homeless shelter census has reached an all-time high -- more than 39,500 people at the end of February. We analyzed the failures of the Bloomberg administration's experiment with time-limited subsidies. And we outlined a "one in three" plan to reduce NYC homelessness by using one of every three available public housing units and Federal housing vouchers.
The "State of the Homeless 2011" report received widespread news coverage from NY1 News, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the New York Daily News, WNBC's Nightly News, the New York Post, and Univision, among others.
Now, faced with evidence of record homelessness, Mayor Bloomberg and administration officials could:
a) Acknowledge that there is a serious and worsening problem, and begin working with State and City officials, service providers, and advocates to craft forward-thinking, evidence-based policies to tackle the problem; or
b) Deny the problem exists and attack the messenger.
Sadly, so far the Mayor and his administration have chosen (b), denial and attacks.
One curious response from City officials has been to deny their own data and statistics -- especially peculiar since all of the homeless data in the "State of the Homeless" report is from City sources.
For instance, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond told the Wall Street Journal, "It's an unrealistic report that uses a faulty way of looking at the data," and said that the Coalition "unfairly compiled the statistics to paint the worst possible picture. For example, [Diamond] cited statistics showing the average number of families in city shelters in March was 4% lower than the same month in 2010."
Now, with all due respect to Mr. Diamond, a "faulty way of looking at the data" would indeed ignore what the Coalition actually reported -- that the total homeless population has reached an all-time record high -- and instead cherry-pick stats about family homelessness. And, as the Coalition did in fact report at the time, the record number of homeless families in shelters was reached in the fall and winter of 2009-2010, with more than 10,000 families per night in municipal shelters for the first time in the City's history.
However, as Mr. Diamond also knows, the recent trend in family homelessness is not at all positive, as we did note in our "State of the Homeless" report. Indeed, between August 2010 and February 2011 (the latest data we had available for our report), the number of homeless families in shelters increased by 4 percent (from 9,530 to 9,854 families) and the number of homeless children by 8 percent (from 14,495 to 15,657 children).
Mr. Diamond also partnered with the right-wing ideologues of the New York Post editorial page today to level some of the same false attacks on the Coalition's report (in an editorial titled, in a tired attempt at humor, "Coalition of the Shameless").
Now, the NY Post editorial board has always been, shall we say, less than sympathetic when it comes to issues like homelessness and poverty, and it has a well-known partisan political agenda. But even for the Post ed board, some of these assertions are real whoppers -- like claiming that the "State of the Homeless" report uses "10-month old figures" when we talk about the record 113,533 New Yorkers who used municipal shelters during FY 2010. Um, as the ed board should know (and Mr. Diamond definitely knows), FY 2011 doesn't end until June 30th, so there isn't current data on the number of people using shelters throughout the course of the year. But, that's why we used the most recent daily and monthly shelter census data, like the City census data showing an all-time high 39,542 people in municipal shelters at the end of February.
Anyway, to help clear up any confusion that may remain, we've posted the City's own homeless population data for the past year below, and historical NYC homeless data from 1983 to the present is available, as it always has been, here.
In any event, in the midst of the City's false claims about their own data and the attacks on the Coalition for alerting the public to that alarming data, Mr. Diamond made an interesting admission to the NY Daily News:
Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said the [Coalition's] figures are accurate but disputes their significance since they include single adults....."I acknowledge the single population of shelter users has risen in the past six months," Diamond said.
Well, in our view every homeless person counts. But the bottom line is still the same: New York City homelessness is at record levels and getting worse. And the Bloomberg administration still has no plan for helping homeless families and individuals move from shelters to stable, permanent homes. Or as we said to the Wall Street Journal:
Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the coalition, said the group stands by its report. "The numbers don't lie," he said. "More homelessness than ever, more New Yorkers experiencing homelessness than ever, if this is success, I'd hate to see what failure looks like."
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