Today’s Read: Why Is the Homeless Crisis Growing?

A combination of economic forces and misguided policy responses has pushed record numbers of men, women, and children into homelessness – leaving the City struggling to address the crisis. Although Mayor de Blasio has made notable improvements in some areas, such as enhancing eviction prevention services, committing to the creation of 15,000 units of supportive housing, and developing rent subsidy programs for homeless households, more must be done to match the scale of the need.

The Coalition has consistently called on the City and the State to make full use of every available affordable housing resource to combat homelessness and alleviate the suffering of our most vulnerable neighbors. As we explained in our State of the Homeless 2017 report, one step the City could take immediately and unilaterally – without even impacting the budget – is to increase the number of NYCHA public housing placements for homeless families to 3,000 per year (please sign our petition here).

In an article for The Nation, Jarrett Murphy summarized the various structural factors and policies that have contributed to record homelessness, and emphasized the need for more permanent housing to address the crisis.

“Since the Great Recession, this has become a different and deeper problem because it’s more and more an economic problem,” de Blasio said in February. “Working people becoming homeless; families in record numbers ending up in shelter; people who don’t have any mental-health challenges or substance-abuse challenges, never been incarcerated, still ending up in shelter—that’s what we’re seeing more and more—that’s a more fundamental structural problem.”

The statistics speak for themselves. Over the 14 years before de Blasio took power, median rents in the city went up 19 percent while real incomes fell 6.3 percent. Republican-engineered deregulation sucked some 150,000 apartments out of the rent-stabilization system from 1994 to 2012. And half a million New Yorkers now shoulder rent burdens that are considered unsustainable. It ain’t rocket science. What the homeless need is housing.

But for a plan triggered by the continued growth of the city’s shelter census, de Blasio’s program only aims to reduce the shelter population by 2,500 over five years—basically to where it was by mid-2015. It makes no provision at all for moving more people to permanent housing than de Blasio was already moving.

It remains unclear how many apartments created through the mayor’s 10-year, 200,000-unit, $41 billion housing plan will still be set aside for homeless families. The 176,000-apartment public-housing system, where thousands of units turnover each year, will still only offer 1,800 units to people coming out of shelters. The same goes for Section 8 vouchers. His LINC program of rent subsidies will continue at the same level.

It’s simply not enough. “At this critical juncture, the principal focus of City and State homeless policy must be on rapidly reducing the need for shelters by bringing permanent housing solutions for families and individuals to scale,” the Coalition for the Homeless said in an annual report released shortly after the mayor’s new plan.

A Fresh Take on Ending the Jail-to-Street-to-Jail Cycle

George Washington (not the famous one) first ended up in a New York homeless shelter in the mid-1980s, after he came home from prison for robbery and crack cocaine hit the streets. Since then, he’s passed between girlfriends’ houses, hotels, shelters all over the city, rooming houses, family members’ couches, rehab facilities, and a cell on Rikers Island.

Washington, 54, is considered a “frequent flier”: someone who has cycled in and out of jail on mostly low-level charges. These repeat offenders tend to be older, single men who are chronically homeless and deal with significant mental health or addiction issues. Their arrests are usually the result of not getting the treatment they need or not having a steady place to live. And they’re expensive: between jail, shelters, and the emergency room, they end up costing a lot more in taxpayer dollars than your average resident.

New York’s Mayor Vowed to Help the Homeless. Why Is the Crisis Growing?

No one really knows how many homeless people there are in New York City, and no one ever has. The city’s official “daily census” tallies the population in the homeless-shelter system, but fails to count thousands of other New Yorkers living under borrowed roofs or open sky: people in domestic-violence shelters and temporary veterans’ housing, emergency shelters for people with HIV/AIDS, facilities operated by religious entities, shelters for runaway youth, or short-term beds attached to the correction system. It also omits the street homeless population, not to mention people who are housed only because they are briefly in a city jail, or found temporary refuge in a hospital, or are doubled up—for now, but probably not forever—with family and friends. All told, these categories could add up to 15,000 to 20,000 people.

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