The number of New Yorkers sleeping in homeless shelters is at a record high, and will likely surpass 60,000 in the coming days: a grim commentary on the failure of the city’s efforts to combat homelessness.
According to the Daily News, the city officially counted 59,948 individuals in its more than 600 homeless shelters Wednesday night. Of these, 23,600 are children, The Wall Street Journal adds, noting that the total has risen steeply from 50,689 when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, and from about 57,600 just a few months ago.
City officials insist the total would be even higher — around 67,000, they estimate — without the new anti-homelessness programs the de Blasio administration has put in place like rental assistance and legal aid.
Speaking to the Journal, Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks blamed the recent rise in homelessness on the fact that previous city governments had not provided these services, saying, “My frustration is that the kinds of common sense investments that we’ve made in prevention and rental assistance were not made 20 years ago when this trajectory began.”
Indeed, the homeless population grew significantly over the 12-year mayoralty of de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg, particularly after the city closed the $140 million Advantage rent-subsidy program when Albany cut funding for it in 2011. The Department of Homeless Services’s budget is set at $1.3 billion for this year, up from $1 billion in Bloomberg’s last year in office.
The de Blasio administration launched its own rental-assistance program in 2014, but one challenge it has faced is that landlords refuse to accept the assistance vouchers, even though this constitutes illegal housing discrimination. The Daily News also notes that the Human Resources Administration is launching a new enforcement unit to address this problem.
In the last count the city conducted in May, 2,535 homeless people were living on streets and subways in New York. The city is one of few localities legally obligated to shelter the homeless; a right to shelter was established in the court case Callahan v. Carey, in 1981.