More NYC Families Turned Away from Shelter Than Ever

As the City unveils a sparkling new intake center for homeless families, alarming new data show that last year the Bloomberg administration turned away a record number of families at the shelter door.

Today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that this week the City plans to open a new “state-of-the-art” intake facility for homeless families on the site of the notorious old Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx. But while an improved facility is welcome news, alarming City data show that last year the City turned away an all-time record number of families and children who were seeking shelter, a trend analyzed in a new Coalition for the Homeless briefing paper. Here’s how the Journal summarized the issue:

Nearly five years after closing the infamous intake center for homeless families in the Bronx-a filthy, overcrowded facility with a reputation for treating people in need with disrespect-New York City will open Tuesday a $65.5 million new center that is triple the size on the same site….

Critics call the new facility a step in the right direction, but say its pretty visuals might distract public attention from the increase in family homelessness. The Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, plans on Monday to release a report saying the Department of Homeless Services is turning away more families than ever from the 250 shelters operated by the city. In 2010, the city denied shelter to 16% more families with children than the previous year, and 76% more families with children than four years ago, the report says.

You can read the new briefing paper, which also outlines a series of reforms that will protect families and children from wrongful denial of shelter, here. And below is the news release issued today:

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2011

As New Homeless Intake Center Opens, Report Finds Record Number of Families Turned Away from City Homeless Shelters

City Data Shows Denial of Shelter Rates Top 66% — An All-Time High

NEW YORK – With homelessness at record levels, New York City is turning away applicants for shelter at a record rate, according to a new report from the Coalition for the Homeless. In 2010, 66% of all families with children seeking shelter were not deemed “eligible” by the City’s Department of Homeless Services, the highest rate in the City’s history. An average of 1,855 families seeking shelter were turned away each month in 2010, a 16% increase from 2009 and a staggering 74% increase from just four years ago.

“Denying shelter to those who desperately need it is just about the worst way to deal with the homelessness crisis,” said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “The Bloomberg Administration’s failed policies have packed the shelter system close to the breaking point. But instead of doing what we know works — moving families into stable, affordable housing – the City’s solution appears to be simply slamming the door on a record number of homeless families in need.”

The Coalition’s State of the Homeless report, released earlier this month, shows New York City homelessness at record levels. Analyzing the City’s own data, the report found that nearly half of those who sought shelter last year had been homeless before, a dramatic indication of the failure of the City’s “Advantage” program, whose strict time limits and bureaucratic rules have created what advocates call a “revolving door” back to homelessness.

Today’s report also found that an increasing number of families who gained access to City shelters in 2010 had to apply more than once before receiving the help they needed. In the first half of Fiscal Year 2011, 44% of all homeless families with children eventually deemed eligible for shelter had to file two or more applications, compared to just 29% in Fiscal Year 2006.

“The City has both a legal and moral responsibility to shelter homeless families,” continued Brosnahan. “Instead, the Bloomberg Administration’s response to the crisis seems to be making it more and more difficult for families to get emergency shelter.”

The Coalition called for the City to re-examine the cases of families recently rejected by the Department of Homeless Services and reform bureaucratic eligibility rules that unfairly turn away families in need.