NY Times Editorial: The Forgotten 50,000

Today’s New York Times includes an amazing editorial spotlighting the historic crisis of New York City homelessness, the failures of Mayor Bloomberg’s flawed policies, and the challenges ahead for the next mayor.

The editorial, entitled “The Forgotten 50,000,” can and should be read in its entirety here. Following are some highlights:

More than 50,000 New Yorkers slept in city homeless shelters and on the streets last night. About 21,000 were children. These numbers are huge and appalling, higher than they were in 2002, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, higher than in the dismal days of the fiscal crisis, the Reagan ’80s and the surly administration of Rudolph Giuliani.

New Yorkers who have no permanent place to live form a small city unto themselves — an abandoned one. The shelter population has risen 61 percent while Mr. Bloomberg has been mayor, propelled by a 73 percent increase in homeless families, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, whose relentless advocacy has been provoking mayoral fury since the 1980s. These surging numbers — of families with children, especially — undercut claims that New York is steadily becoming a better place to live, and that its government has gotten better at helping its most vulnerable citizens meet their most basic needs.

Noting that Bloomberg “once proposed energetic and aggressive initiatives on behalf of the homeless” but now “speaks of them with resentment,” the Times editorial board states that:

[Bloomberg’s administration] has failed to keep its promises to significantly shrink the shelter population by giving people the means to live independently and enough paths to permanent housing.

Previous mayors tackled the problem with the assistance of federal programs, helping families in shelters obtain Section 8 rent vouchers and federal public-housing apartments managed by the New York City Housing Authority. So did the Bloomberg administration, for a while. But it broke with those policies in 2005, substituting short-term rent subsidies, which it then abruptly terminated in 2011. That was when homeless families started returning to shelters at an accelerating rate and at great expense. It costs taxpayers an average of $36,799 a year to shelter a family, according to city data, far more than it would to simply subsidize its rent.

The editorial echoes the solutions proposed by Coalition for the Homeless in our landmark “State of the Homeless 2013” report, as well as those embraced by the United to End Homelessness campaign, of which the Coalition is a founding member:

A coalition of more than a hundred community organizations and advocacy groups, created in April to call attention to the growing crisis, has called for restoring rent subsidies and legal services to protect families from eviction and foreclosure, giving the homeless priority access to low-income housing, and expanding supportive housing for the disabled and mentally ill — all good ideas.

As we get closer each day to the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and to a change in New York City’s mayor and elected leaders, it’s essential that the next administration and City Council abandon Bloomberg’s failed homeless policies and embrace the proven, cost-effective solutions that exist to finally reduce the soaring numbers of homeless children and adults in New York City.