On any given night in January, there were more than 50,000 people sleeping in New York City shelters, according to a new report from a homeless advocacy group.
Patrick Markee, senior analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless and author of "State of the Homeless 2013," said that under Mayor Michael Bloomberg the homeless shelter population has risen by 61 percent and the number of homeless families has increased 73 percent — even as the city has spent more on services than his predecessors.
"That in some ways speaks to the failures of his policies," Markee told WNYC's Soterios Johnson. "What previous mayors ... used to do was to allocate some of our existing housing resources, particularly federal housing programs, like public housing and Section 8 vouchers, which help homeless children and families relocate from expensive shelter system into long-term permanent housing."
Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, counters that there are fewer families and single adults that are entering the system now than years ago.
He said the reason numbers are rising is because people are staying in shelters for longer periods of time. Part of that stems from the city's loss of the Advantage housing voucher, which helped families transition out of shelter into apartments.
"I think it's ironic that at the the same time [the coalition] is decrying the rise, and nobody wants these numbers go up, they were also the proponent of eliminating the main vehicle for getting families out of the shelter system," Diamond told WNYC.
He says relying on Section 8 is not feasible, given the financial realities in Washington.
At the city's intake center for families and women in the Bronx on Tuesday morning, it wasn't politics or the latest figures that were foremost on people's minds; it was finding a warm, safe place to stay that night. William Adorno, 36, his wife and two kids were part of the steady stream of people arriving with strollers and overnight bags stuffed with clothes trying to get a spot in a city shelter. He said it was the family's third time in the system.
"Make good money, for awhile," he said. "After awhile, work subsides and there's nothing left. Just keep looking, resumes are out there."
Lamell Samuels, 26, is also out of work. He arrived with his wife and 4-year-old daughter trying to get a shelter spot for the second night in a row. He says the economy has made it hard to find a job, but it's also the cost of living in the city that has forced his family out on the street.
"It's just New York itself. Everything is expensive. They take more money from you, but they raise the rent and the prices of products in stores and stuff. And that right there broke people. It broke us," he said.
Listen to Soterios Johnson's full interview with Patrick Markee and Commissioner Seth Diamond above.
Stephen Nessen contributed reporting