The Bloomberg Administration’s Plan to Reduce Shelter for Street Homeless New Yorkers

Today Coalition for the Homeless joined elected officials and clergy members who provide shelter to the homeless to call on the Bloomberg administration to reconsider its plan to downsize and restructure New York City’s network of drop-in centers and faith-based shelters. The Coalition released a briefing paper, available here, detailing how the administration’s plan would reduce shelter and services for street homeless New Yorkers.

In October the New York City Department of Homeless Services released two concept papers proposing to:

1. Reduce the overnight shelter capacity in drop-in centers and church and synagogue shelters for street homeless adults by 51 percent;

2. Reduce the hours of drop-in centers serving street homeless adults – the majority of whom are individuals living with mental illness – from 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to 13 hours per day with no overnight shelter capacity;

3. Cut the number of drop-in centers citywide from nine to seven centers, leaving only three drop-in centers in Manhattan where the majority of street homelessness is concentrated; and

4. Create barriers at drop-in centers, which currently provide walk-in assistance – making it more difficult for individuals to access emergency shelter and services.

“Faith-based shelters and drop-in centers provide a unique and vital service to vulnerable homeless individuals who would otherwise sleep on city streets or in other public spaces. This plan, coupled with the city’s plan to move men’s shelter intake out of Manhattan, will make it extremely difficult for homeless New Yorkers to access services and shelter. With the thermometer dropping and New York’s economy entering a major downturn, the timing for this proposal could not be worse,” said Mary Brosnahan, the Coalition’s executive director.

Today, in addition to the more than 35,000 homeless people sleeping in the municipal shelter system and thousands more sleeping on the streets, there are around a thousand homeless New Yorkers who are sheltered each night in drop-in centers or in overnight, faith-based shelter beds located in churches and synagogues. Research shows that the majority of these individuals are living with serious mental illness, as well as addiction disorders and other disabilities.

“As temperatures plummet below freezing, we cannot make it harder for the most vulnerable homeless New Yorkers to get the services they need. Taking away much needed shelter beds doesn’t decrease the number of New Yorkers who have to sleep on the street, it increases it. This is the common sense, numbers-based type of logic that this Administration usually likes to see,” said New York City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, Chair of the General Welfare Committee.

Many of these individuals are unable or unwilling to reside in the municipal shelter system. While many municipal shelters are run by non-profit groups and offer specialized services, the “assessment shelters” at the front end of the system are still large, chaotic and poorly operated.

New York City’s Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “I commend the Coalition for the Homeless for their tireless work on behalf of countless New Yorkers. These are very tough times for our city and essential drop-in centers and shelter beds must be available to all New Yorkers in need. An economic crisis is the worst possible time to make changes that could leave hundreds more New Yorkers on the streets each night.”

Since the 1980’s the City has made access to help available through drop-in centers where homeless individuals can stop in to seek assistance or a chair to sleep in at night, as well as temporary overnight accommodations in small, faith-based shelters in churches or synagogues. Many of the most hard-to-serve, street-bound homeless people find these smaller, faith-based settings much less threatening and use them, even after a bad experience in a municipal shelter.

In FY 2008, according to City data, each night an average of 929 homeless adults were provided with overnight shelter placements in drop-in centers and faith-based shelters. Each night New York’s drop-in centers sheltered an average of 644 homeless adults while faith-based beds sheltered an average of 285 homeless adults. Moreover, the use of these overnight placements rose significantly in the winter months – in February 2008, for instance, there were an average of 1,027 homeless adults sheltered each night (692 people each night in drop-in centers and 335 people each night in faith-based shelters).

New Study Proves Positive Impact of Supportive Housing on Neighborhoods

A major new research study has found that supportive housing – affordable housing with support services for formerly-homeless individuals living with mental illness and other special needs – has positive impacts on property values in surrounding neighborhoods.

The study, “The Impact of Supportive Housing on Surrounding Neighborhoods: Evidence from New York City,” available here, was conducted by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University School of Law. It looked at supportive housing residences built in New York City between 1985 and 2003 and examined changes in property values in surrounding neighborhoods compared to property values in comparable neighborhoods.

According to the Supportive Housing Network of New York, which helped the Furman Center with the study, here are the key findings:

* Over the first five years following construction, the values of properties within two blocks of a supportive housing building rose three to four per cent more than comparable properties not located near supportive housing.
* The majority of buildings in the sample were located in the higher-density boroughs of Manhattan (49%), the Bronx (25%) and Brooklyn (23%). However, neighborhood density did not affect the relationship between residences and property values, indicating that housing developments have the same benign effect in more sparsely populated neighborhoods.
* While buildings studied range from less than 10 tenants to more than 400, the study found no link between a residence’s size and its effect on nearby property values. This finding runs counter to the common perception that larger residences are more likely to affect real estate values nearby.

After the study was released, the New York Times published an editorial (read the full text here) which concluded, “The Furman study confirms what advocates have been saying for years: well run supportive housing can help both formerly homeless citizens and the neighborhoods in which they are built. Politicians and business leaders across the country should pay attention.”

The Legal Right to Shelter for Homeless Families

September 17th will be remembered as an historic day in the struggle to ensure fundamental protections for homeless New Yorkers: The signing of a landmark court order establishing an enforceable, legal right to shelter for homeless families with children.

The court order is the result of years of litigation on behalf of homeless families by the Legal Aid Society, and it builds on the landmark 1981 consent decree in Callahan v. Carey that affirmed the legal right to shelter for homeless single men and women.

Thanks to these two historic legal victories, New York City remains the only city in the United States with a legal guarantee of emergency shelter from the elements for homeless children and adults.

The New York Times’ City Room blog has a good account of the September 17th legal settlement. And here is a statement on the legal victory by the Coalition’s executive director, Mary Brosnahan.

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