The Coalition for the Homeless, an NLIHC partner, released its ninth annual State of the Homeless, an assessment of homelessness in New York City. With more than 9,000 families in shelter each night, the report states that 2007 was the worst year for family homelessness in the city since the Great Depression. In addition, the number of homeless children in New York City continued to increase, to 14,966 in January 2008.
In New York City’s 2007 fiscal year, 102,187 different residents slept in homeless shelters, 5.8% more than in FY06 and 23.4% more than in FY02. Throughout the year the shelter population remained at near-record levels, hovering around 35,000 people in shelter each night. For the second year in a row, more families sought shelter (up 10.7%), while fewer families moved to permanent housing (down 6.9%). Four out of every five homeless people in shelters are there as members of a family.
Two policies instituted by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg are cited as contributing to the problem. In 2004 the city decided to deny homeless families priority access to federal public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (also known as ‘Section 8’ vouchers). Then, in October, 2007 the city began denying emergency shelter to some re-applicant homeless families.
“When the number of families in shelter hit an all time high in February 2007, we called for a mid-course correction in Mayor Bloomberg’s five-year plan to end chronic homelessness. However, a full year later, the administration’s refusal to reconsider its policies continues to prevent New York from making any real progress in reducing the number of families in shelter,” said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “In the face of a recession and mounting evidence that their policies are not working, we hope the administration will finally reconsider.”
The report notes one potential bright spot in the city’s homelessness picture: for the third year in a row the number of single adults in shelter declined. However, the Coalition cautions this might be the result, in part, of over-relying on illegal boarding houses to shelter homeless adults.
In an effort to reduce the single adult shelter population, the city placed hundreds of homeless individuals – many of them living with mental illness and other disabilities – into more than 65 illegal boarding houses with hazardous conditions previously documented by city inspectors. During the past two years at least 11 of the illegal boarding houses were condemned or ordered vacated, and many of the homeless adults consigned there returned to municipal shelters. The city’s accelerating use of illegal boarding houses to shelter homeless adults was documented in an earlier report from the Coalition, Warehousing the Homeless, released in January.
To continue to reduce the number of single adults in shelter, the report recommends that city officials halt referrals of homeless people to illegal boarding houses and accelerate the development of permanent supportive housing. The report notes that while aiming to reduce homelessness, fewer city-funded apartments (just 405 units in 2007) were built for homeless people than at any time since the 1980s.
Contact: Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst, Coalition for the Homeless, firstname.lastname@example.org. State of the Homeless 2008 is available at www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/advocacy/StateoftheHomeless2008.html.