NY Daily News Ed Board: Facts Don’t Matter When It Comes to Homeless Policy

In a recent editorial, the New York Daily News defended Mayor Bloomberg’s failed homeless policies — but had to ignore the facts to do so.

Because we at Coalition for the Homeless subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that facts should inform public policy, we thought it would be helpful to review some of the claims made by the Daily News editorial board:

1.  The editorial dismissed the importance of the impending loss of the Open Door drop-in center, New York City’s largest drop-in center serving street homeless people.  Interestingly, it was the Daily News itself that broke the story that there will be no replacement for the center, something that City officials had promised last spring.  Instead, the editorial dismisses the Open Door as “just a room filled with folding chairs where street people sleep.”

In fact, the Open Door, which is located adjacent to the Port Authority bus terminal in midtown Manhattan, serves some 200 homeless people each day and provides overnight accommodations to 90 homeless people — representing one third of all street homeless people served by drop-in centers citywide.  After the many earlier cutbacks to drop-in centers, particularly in Manhattan, concerned people are worried about what will happen to the vulnerable individuals served by the Open Door — especially given that the shelter system is bursting at the seams. The fear is that many will end up back on the streets.

2.  The Daily News ed board claims that it is “not city policy” that municipal shelters — including those directly operated by the City — have referred thousands of homeless adults to illegal, unsafe boarding houses.

Again, the Daily News itself has reported on shelter referrals to some of these very illegal dwellings — including a condemned building in Brooklyn where municipal shelters placed dozens of homeless men, who were lucky to escape when one of the home’s walls partially collapsed.

Moreover, in a letter from NYC Department of Homeless Services commissioner Robert Hess, sent last year to the New York City Council  after an oversight hearing on referrals to illegal dwellings, Hess admitted that municipal shelters had sent homeless people to illegal boarding houses later ordered vacated by other City agencies.  In fact, in the space of only one year, City shelters sent an incredible 340 homeless adults to only 14 vacated dwellings, largely one-and-two-family homes.

3.  Finally, the Daily News editorial decries the suggestion — made by New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and others — that the City should restore funding for some 3,000 poor families who’ve had Federal housing vouchers rescinded.

While the editorial claims that such a move would cost the City more money, in fact exactly the opposite is true.  Indeed, given that it costs $38,000 per year to shelter a homeless family, by cutting off 3,000 poor families from housing assistance the City risks spending as much as $114 million to provide shelter to these families — far more than the estimated $29 miillion it would take to restore funding for the vouchers.

So, to review:  The Daily News editorial not only gets the facts wrong on some key elements of City homeless policy — it also essentially advocates for more homeless people sleeping rough on the streets, more illegal and unsafe boarding houses, more poor families made homeless, and more taxpayer money spent on emergency shelter.  Not bad for a 182-word editorial!

Is It Time Yet, Mayor Bloomberg? II (State of the City Edition)

As we noted here last month, way, way back in August — in the thick of what turned out to be a tighter-than-predicted mayoral election race — Mayor Bloomberg was asked a question about record family homelessness, and this was his response:

“Bloomberg acknowledged there has been a spike in homeless families in the city and nationally because of the recession, but said there will be ‘plenty of time’ to debate this issue ‘after the election.'”

By our count it has now been 78 days since the election, and Mayor Bloomberg still has not talked about (much less “debated”) homelessness.  Nor has he acknowledged in any way New York City’s all-time-high homeless shelter population — more than 39,000 people each night, including more than 16,000 children.  Nor has he addressed his administration’s failed approach to homelessness.  And, most of all, the Mayor has still not laid out a new strategy for confronting record homelessness in New York City in the midst of rising unemployment and the ongoing loss of affordable housing.

Today the silence about homelessness was still deafening in Mayor Bloomberg’s “State of the City” address.  Althouugh he acknowledged the recession and problems like the spike in foreclosures, the Mayor mentioned the word “homelessness” only once — and even then, it was only in the midst of a vague “to do” list for his third term:

“It [‘doing the fundamentals’] means fighting poverty and homelessness with more innovative new ideas.”

The problem, of course, is that many of the “innovative” homeless policies implemented during the Mayor’s first two terms have proven to be disastrous — like the deeply flawed (and ultimately abandoned) “Housing Stability Plus” program, and the City’s ongoing referrals of homeless adults to unsafe, illegal boarding houses.  In contrast, many successful policies from past mayoral administrations which actually reduced homelessness — like the targeting of Federal housing assistance to homeless New Yorkers — have been dismissed by the Mayor and his officials.

An example of this backwards attitude appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, where NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess was quoted as saying, “We will not re-adopt failed policies of the past….”

Of course, the problem with that position is that, under past policies, there were far fewerhomeless families and individuals than under the Bloomberg administration.  So, once again, while it has been 78 days and counting, we look forward to the Mayor taking “plenty of time” to debate homeless policy.  And we hope that what emerges is a new approach to homelessness that builds on proven, successful housing-based policies.

Public Advocate Criticizes Current Homeless Policies and Offers Solutions

As reported by the New York Times today, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is voicing his concerns on the Mayor’s approach to homelessness, saying that the administration’s overall attempt to reduce homelessness has failed. De Blasio cited the record shelter population and the increase in homeless families (to a number that includes 16,000 children) as a clear sign that current homeless policies are not working.

“The big mistake, in my view, is the inability to acknowledge that the overall strategy hasn’t worked,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I’ve never heard a full acknowledgment of the failure of the strategy, and I don’t know how you can make something better if you don’t acknowledge that it hasn’t worked.”

De Blasio offered some suggestions for policy changes to the administration, including increasing access to public housing for homeless families, building and strengthening prevention services, and halting referrals to illegal and unsafe housing.

Also in today’s news, the New York Daily News reported a serious increase in the number of homeless children in NYC schools, especially in poor-performing schools that are scheduled to close. In some instances, the number of homeless students has increased by more than 100 percent over the past year.

“The increase swamped social workers and left principals scrambling for after-school funding to give kids a place to go after classes ended, teachers and administrators say….

‘The school takes on even more of a family role for the child, encouraging them to keep going,’ said student affairs coordinator Stefanie Siegel. ‘Academic success can be hard to keep on the front of the table because you’re just trying to keep the students stable.'”

Stability is elusive for homeless children, affecting their ability to perform well in school and live up to their full potential. In the coming months, we look forward to working with Public Advocate de Blasio in pushing for real changes in homeless policy and striving to give New York’s homeless children a better chance at life.

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