NY Times: Homeless Kids Need Housing Assistance

With some 20,000 homeless children sleeping each night in NYC shelters, a new NY Times editorial called on the Mayor and Governor to provide permanent housing aid for vulnerable kids and families. The Mayor’s response so far: No housing, but more and more shelters.

Today’s major New York Times editorial sounds the alarm about the dramatic rise in family and child homelessness in New York City:

Almost 20,000 children now go to bed every night in New York City’s homeless shelters, up from 16,000 last year. If homelessness is hard on adults, for the young, it can be disastrous, starting a slide into a lifetime of problems. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo could reduce these numbers by restarting programs that help homeless families move from shelters to permanent rental housing.

In 2005, Mr. Bloomberg promised that he would cut the city’s homeless population of 33,000 by two-thirds by 2009. It hasn’t happened; the total homeless population has reached almost 46,000 this year. He often blames the economy, which is certainly a factor in rising homelessness. But he and the governor have eliminated important programs that helped shift people out of shelters. It is time to restore the cuts and reinstate those programs.

The Bloomberg administration unwisely ended priority referrals for homeless families to public housing and for federal rent subsidies, which have very long waiting lists. The mayor should find a way to give destitute families quicker access to public housing and rental vouchers.

Advocates for the poor say New York City now has the highest number of homeless children since the Great Depression. That is an emergency Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cuomo cannot afford to ignore.

Sadly, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t look like he’s noticed the failures of his flawed homeless policies. At a lively and often heated New York City Council hearing yesterday, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond flatly stated that the City will NOT provide any housing assistance to help homeless kids and families leave the shelter system. He sparred repeatedly with City Council members who urged the administration to adopt a new approach, even going so far as to distort and mislead about a study clearly showing that the City Council’s homeless housing plan would both reduce family homelessness and save taxpayer dollars.

So what is Mayor Bloomberg’s plan? Build more shelters. From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration plans to open at least five new shelters by the end of this year in response to a substantial increase in New York City homelessness, expanding the number of new shelters that have opened since May to 15.

At a City Council hearing on Tuesday, council members criticized the Bloomberg administration for failing to respond to what local officials and advocates are calling a crisis.

“There was nothing new offered to confront a big crisis,” said Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, in an interview after the hearing.

At the hearing, Council Member Stephen Levin, also a Brooklyn Democrat, told Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city’s Department of Homeless Services, that by any measure homelessness in New York City is getting worse. “Unless there is a significant change in policy, those trends will continue to get worse,” he told Mr. Diamond. “What is the real game plan here?”

In written testimony, two advocates, Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, and Joshua Goldfein, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, lambasted the administration. The homeless crisis “shows no sign of ending” unless the administration reverses course from “current disastrous policies,” they wrote.

Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society’s testimony at yesterday’s hearing is available here (PDF). And the Coalition’s new report, showing the devastating impact of homelessness in children, is available here.

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