Mayor's Report Card Gives Homeless Situation Poor Marks

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Homelessness is up among families, single adults and those living on the streets. That's according to the Mayor's Management Report for fiscal year 2012.

The result has been a rapid expansion of shelters. The number of shelters in the city is now at 234, up from 218 in fiscal year 2011. With shelter numbers at an all time high and the continuous increase in the poverty rate — 20.9 percent in New York City — there doesn't appear to be any relief in sight. 

As of September 20, there were more than 46,000 people sleeping in a city shelter. More than 19,000 of them were children. According to the Mayor's Management Report, families are now staying in shelter an average of 337 days — nearly 3 months longer than the past fiscal year. 

The slow exit from shelter is blamed on the loss of a housing subsidy that allowed families to rent apartments in the private market. The state cut funding for the housing subsidy and the city, not wanting to foot the bill alone, followed suit. Now that it's gone, families are struggling to find places to move out to. Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said there would be no return of the subsidy because of budget constraints.

Instead, Diamond said, shelters are concentrating on finding people jobs. "It's not as easy an answer as a subsidy," he said. "It may be that it takes a little longer to get there but that is ultimately the path that we have to rely on. There is no alternative."

Jennifer Vallone, director of Project Homes at University Settlement, runs an anti-eviction program and said most of the people coming to her organization are facing homelessness, such as seniors on fixed incomes who can't afford rent increases, public housing residents being evicted over a number of different issues and families who had been paying rent with the housing subsidy ended by the city.

"They've either lost their jobs or had a reduction in hours," Vallone said. "There have also been a bunch of medical issues people have had to deal with."

It’s not just the shelter population that has been growing. The number of people who refuse shelter and sleep on city streets is up. According to the Mayor's Management Report street homelessness rose 23 percent in fiscal year 2012 compared to fiscal year 2011. 

Diamond argued that — over the long term — progress has been made and the number remains 26 percent less than it was seven years ago when the street homeless count first began.

But Juan De La Cruz said he's seen the increase first hand. He runs the Grand Central Food Program which feeds the street homeless. "I'm seeing places where we were getting 30 people and we're now seeing 70," De La Cruz said. A location near Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx is one place where De La Cruz says more people have been showing up for meals. The outreach worker said many of the new faces are not the drug addicted or mentally ill but people who recently became unemployed. 

"We try to encourage them to go into shelter now before it gets cold," he said.