State of the Homeless 2008

State of the Homeless 2008:  Treading Water

Download the complete report here.

March 27, 2008 -- Coalition for the Homeless released its ninth annual "State of the Homeless" report, an annual assessment of homelessness in New York City. The report finds that rising housing costs and a slowing economy coupled with City policies that prevent homeless families from accessing federal Section 8 vouchers and public housing prevented New York City from making a dent in the number of families in shelter in 2007. With more than 9,000 families in shelter each night, 2007 was the worst year for family homelessness in modern New York City history.

The report finds that in FY 2007, 102,187 different New Yorkers slept in homeless shelters - 5.8% more than in FY 2006 and a 23.4% increase since FY 2002. Throughout the year the shelter population remained at near-record levels - hovering around 35,000 people in shelter each night. For the second year in a row more families sought shelter (up 10.7%) while fewer families were moved to permanent housing (down 6.9%). The number of homeless children in New York City continued to increase - to 14,966 in January.

"Last February the number of families in shelter hit an all time high. At that time we called for a mid-course correction in Mayor Bloomberg's five year plan to end chronic homelessness. A full year later, the Bloomberg administration's stubborn refusal to reconsider their policy denying federal Section 8 vouchers and public housing to homeless families continues to prevent New York from making any real progress in reducing the number of families in shelter. Instead we're running in place. In the face of a recession and mounting evidence that their plan has not worked, we hope the administration will finally reconsider their housing policies for families in shelter," said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless.

The Coalition report outlines an immediate action plan to reduce New York City homelessness with an emphasis on restoring priority for federal housing assistance to homeless New Yorkers. Current policy makes it virtually impossible for families seeking to leave shelter to access federal Section 8 vouchers or vacant NYCHA apartments. Until late 2004 homeless families received priority placement for these programs.

"The Bloomberg administration achieved the greatest sustained reduction in family homelessness when they allowed homeless families to access federal Section 8 vouchers or NYCHA apartments as permanent housing. They attempted to replace Section 8 with two failed city programs, Housing Stability Plus (abandoned in 2007) and now Work Advantage. The numbers are clear, these programs haven't worked," said Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition and the report's author.

Impact of New City Policy Denying Shelter to Some Homeless Families

The report also takes a preliminary look at the impact of a recently enacted policy change that has led to dozens of homeless families being denied shelter. In October, 2007 the City began denying emergency shelter to re-applicant homeless families. Initial data shows that the city's eligibility policies are highly flawed and that one-third of families found eligible for shelter were initially denied.

Single Adults in Shelter

The report notes one potential bright spot in the city's homelessness picture: for the third year in a row the number of single adults in shelter declined. At the same time the Coalition cautioned that these gains may have been achieved, at least in part, by an over-reliance on illegal boarding houses to shelter homeless adults.

As the Coalition documented in an earlier report, Warehousing the Homeless (January, 2008), the Department of Homeless Services and contracted shelter providers have placed hundreds of homeless individuals - many of them living with mental illness and other disabilities - into dozens of illegal boarding houses with hazardous conditions previously documented by City inspectors in an effort to reduce the single adult shelter population.

During the past two years, at least 11 of the illegal boarding houses used by the City to shelter homeless New Yorkers have been condemned or ordered vacated, and many of the homeless adults consigned there have returned to municipal shelters.

To continue to reduce the number of single adults in shelter, the report recommends that City officials halt referrals of homeless New Yorkers to illegal boarding houses and accelerate the development of permanent supportive housing. The report notes that while aiming to reduce single adult homelessness, New York City now builds fewer City-funded apartments for homeless people than any time since the 1980s (405 units in 2007).