Bloomberg on Dasani: ‘Sad’ but ‘atypical’
At a press conference in Brooklyn today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked to respond to a five-part series in The New York Times about homelessness that followed the story of an 11-year-old girl who lives in a homeless shelter with her family.
The Times stories, by investigative reporter Andrea Elliott, condemned Bloomberg in unusually explicit terms for the shortcomings of his homeless policies relative to goals the administration set for itself, and for his role in creating a city in which rich people have access to amenities and poor people are driven to the margins.
Here's what Bloomberg said today, in full:
"The story was the story of a young girl, she's really quite extraordinary, growing up in very challenging circumstances and fighting some difficult odds. One of the reasons to be hopeful, and one of the bright spots in the story is her experience in public school where … the teacher and principal obviously care a lot about her and hopefully the education she is getting will make a big difference and allow her to realize the incredible potential and break the cycle of poverty that she was born into.
"This kid was dealt a bad hand, I don't quite know why, but it's just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not. It's not going to be easy for her to turn around her life but that's why we're investing so much in training around failing schools. We believe in every child. When we came into office…the system said there’s no hope and we shouldn’t even try. I said we’re not going to stand for that; we have to make sure we try to help every single child.
"Having said all of that, the family situation is extremely atypical. The article implied that all people are treated this way or all have the same problems and that just is not true. The average homeless family spends less than two months in a shelter and has some employment history. This family did not. This is a sad situation and we’re certainly going to continue to try to help the parents to achieve stability and independence. But it’s fair to say New York City has done more than any city to help the homeless and we should be very proud of that. And I’m particularly proud of the people who’ve worked in helping those less fortunate. They go to work every day and they don’t make a lot of money and they have to deal with very difficult situations every day. You’ve really got to have a belief in humanity to want to devote your life to and thank goodness these people do that.
"Um, the number of people living on our streets, for example, is down close to thirty percent since ’05. We’ve seen a great increase on spending on homeless services including homeless prevention which is what we’re really trying to do and support services for those who enter shelter. If you remember when we came into office, people who came into shelters were put on buses and bussed around all night because there weren’t beds for them. They were treated in an inhuman way when they showed up at the centers. Nobody cared about them. Nobody ever did anything. People forget what is was like a dozen years ago. Now, today New York City and the taxpayers provide those families in need with subsidized health care, child care, job training, shelter, counseling and placement services and temporary cash assistance. And everybody forgets that we do all of these things and many families are really using those services to transition to a better life.
"Because of all this work there are few people living on the street. I looked at some numbers just to put it in perspective because I’ve always worried about whether we are compassionate enough. And maybe you can never be totally, fully compassionate. But people aren’t going to say 100 percent of everything I have should go to help others. People want to enjoy life and they have to make a decision: how much should we be spending to help others. And one of the ways I look at it is one out of every 2200 and 60-odd New Yorkers live on the street. One out of every 2200 and 60. Now, that’s one out of every 2200 and 60 too many, but when you compare it to other cities: Washington D.C. is not one out of every 2200. It’s one out every nine hundred. If you think about Seattle, it's one out of every 300. Think about Los Angeles. It’s one out of every 294, I remember the number. Just think about that. We have, yes we have plenty of people that we have to do a better job at helping but the answer is to really take a look at how well we do versus others.
"And I couldn’t be more proud — I don’t think there’s any administration [in] any city that has ever done as much to help those in need as we have done in this city. Should we stop there? No, not at all. But if you are poor and homeless, you’d be better off in New York City than any place else.
"And I think one of the problems is a lot of journalists just have never looked around the world. Your smirk shows that you haven’t been outside the country and don’t know what poverty means elsewheres. Um, the other thing is, look, in the last 12 years, um, the poverty rate for 19 out of the 20 biggest cities in the United States has gone up an average of 36% in 12 years. 36% on average. Know what it is in New York City? Unchanged. It would be better if it went down."