50,000 and counting…and then Sandy

Tonight, a record 50,000 New Yorkers – including 20,500 children will sleep in our emergency shelters. Thousands more live on the streets or in makeshift shelter and another 6,500 or so are living in temporary hotel and rooming house accommodations after having been displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

Each day more evacuees are leaving their cold, dark, moldy homes, seeking a temporary place to stay, and only a handful have been able to find housing they can afford. As our outreach workers report, many of the evacuees are those least able to cope with longterm displacement. Often sick or disabled, before Sandy they lived in basement apartments, unlawfully sub-divided units, doubled-up or in congregate facilities.

No Housing

The housing situation in New York City is bleak for homeless families and evacuees alike. With the exception of a trickle of housing that opens for disabled homeless people and those being discharged from psychiatric facilities, today there is simply – and shockingly – no housing program for homeless New Yorkers. Some evacuees may eventually qualify for federal or NYC housing placements, but they have already been living for months in hotels without sufficient food, medication, transportation or cash to meet their most basic needs.

No Exit from Shelter

What does all of this mean? It means that for the first time in modern history, our city offers its poorest citizens no exit from homeless shelters: No housing program to help them find a way out once they enter, thanks to the shortsighted policies of the Bloomberg administration. As regularSafety Net readers know, the number of homeless men, women and kids began to skyrocket when the Bloomberg administration eliminated the preference – previously granted by Mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani – for homeless families to access public housing and Section 8 rental vouchers. Prior administrations wisely used those cost-effective resources, prioritizing roughly one-in-three federally subsidized units for homeless households. Bloomberg’s failed series of experiments in time-limited rental assistance, such as the Advantage Program, led only to a revolving door that now returns unprecedented numbers of families to shelter:

• Homeless households exiting shelter through Advantage subsidies are 18 times more likely to return to shelter than those placed in public housing, and ten and a half times more likely than those exiting to apartments with Section 8 assistance.

• The return to shelter of 6,508 previously homeless Advantage families (from the program’s inception through November 2012) accounts for over $188 million in avoidable shelter costs.

• One in three families applying for shelter are previously homeless – now returning to shelter after their time-limited Advantage housing subsidy was terminated.

• Seven and a half years ago, before the Bloomberg administration cut off access to federal housing resources for homeless families, 26 percent of shelter applicants had previously stayed in the shelter system. Today it’s 63 percent.

• With no exit from shelter, the average length of stay in shelter now exceeds one year – and current record levels of homelessness are projected to continue to rise sharply.

Thanks to your help and support, the Coalition is there for homeless New Yorkers and Sandy evacuees alike to provide immediate relief as well as fight for sensible, humane and fiscally sound solutions. Your compassion makes a lasting difference in the lives of those living on the edge.

Mary E. Brosnahan,
President & CEO
Shelly Nortz
Deputy Executive Director for Policy