State of the Homeless 2009

State of the Homeless 2009:  A Proven Way to Reduce Family Homelessness During the Economic Recession

Download the complete report here.

April 23, 2009 - Coalition for the Homeless today released its tenth annual "State of the Homeless" report, an annual assessment of homelessness in New York City. The report finds that rising unemployment and high housing costs coupled with a City policy that prevents homeless families from accessing Federal Section 8 vouchers and public housing led to a major increase in the number of families in shelter in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.

The report finds that currently more than 36,000 homeless New Yorkers, including 15,500 children, sleep each night in municipal shelters. At the end of November 2008 there were 9,720 homeless families sleeping in NYC municipal shelters - the highest number of homeless families since the City of New York began reporting this data more than 25 years ago. Data from the last three quarters illustrates the dramatic impact the recession is having on family homelessness. Since June the NYC homeless shelter population has risen 9 percent and the number of families in shelter has increased by 12 percent, while in recent months the number of new homeless families entering municipal shelters has reached all-time record levels.

A look at data from the past two New York City recessions suggests that rising unemployment and persistently high housing costs will mean continuing increases in family homelessness throughout 2009.

Bloomberg Administration Continues to Deny Homeless Families Federal Housing Assistance

Beginning in 2005, the Bloomberg administration dramatically changed 20 years of City policy - cutting off homeless families from priority for Federal housing programs including Section 8 vouchers and public housing. In 2009, the City of New York will provide at least 12,000 new Section 8 vouchers and at least 5,000 public housing apartments to low-income NYC families - but virtually none to the homeless.

In changing the policy in 2005 Bloomberg administration officials claimed that the availability of Federal housing aid "induces" families to seek shelter. At the time the administration presented no empirical evidence to back this assertion. Since the Bloomberg administration cut off homeless families from Federal housing aid, the number of homeless families entering shelter has actually increased - and hit all-time record high this past year.

This year's "State of the Homeless" report cites independent research from multiple academic experts that tested and reject the idea that making Section 8 vouchers available to homeless New Yorkers would have a significant impact on families seeking shelter in search of aid.

"In November 2007 - long before the current downturn - the number of families in New York City shelters hit an all time high. At that time we called on the Mayor to look at the numbers and reconsider his administration's policy of denying Federal Section 8 housing vouchers and public housing to homeless families. Now, nearly eighteen months later, the numbers are even worse, yet City Hall continues to cling to an ideological position that says you can't give housing aid to homeless families without causing more people to enter the shelter system," said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless.

"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.