Bloomberg on the stark new homeless numbers

Bloomberg on Tuesday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Today, the Coalition for the Homeless released a report finding that on an average January night, one out every 100 New York City children slept in a homeless shelter.

That represents a 22 percent increase in the past year alone.

As Michael Howard Saul reported in the Wall Street Journal, families are also staying in shelters longer (more than a year, on average), and "New York City has seen one of the steepest increases in homeless families in the past decade, advocates said, growing 73% since 2002."

The sharp rise in homelessness can be attributed to a number of factors, including, of course, the recession, but whatever the causes, it also represents one of the most conspicuous failures of the Bloomberg administration to meet its original goals.

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The mayor did not dispute the numbers in the coalition's report, but he did lay some blame for the problem on the coalition itself.

"The Coalition [for] the Homeless is not a reputable organization," he said.

"We are having fewer people coming into the homeless system," he continued. "They are staying longer. Why? Because the state cut the Advantage program out. When they cut their money out, we also lost the federal monies. Without those subsidies, people don't move out. So if you want to reduce the population, you've gotta go and get those monies back. Keep in mind, it was the Coalition [for] the Homeless that wanted to kill that program and hurt the people in the shelters. So it's a little bit disingenuous for them to start talking about it."

The state stopped funding the Advantage program, which moved people from shelters into subsidized apartments, in 2011.

The organization criticized the Advantage program, and suggested that the city's money could be more effectively spent in other ways.

"The numbers are what they are," said the mayor.

Bloomberg also attributed the rise in sheltered families to the requirement that the city house anyone who seeks shelter; the economy, and his administration's efforts to make the homeless shelter system work better.

"Part of it's we've changed the system that used to be a disaster, if you remember, when we came into office," he said. "People got bussed around all night long because they didn't have beds for them. Kids showed up in a different school every single day if they went to school at all. People slept on benches. All that's gone. The intake systems work."

Comparing the city's homeless numbers to those in other cities, the mayor said, "In a relative sense, we're doing fine."

"But we can't move people out without the system," he continued. "And if any of the advocates want to do something about it, I would suggest that rather than just feed fictitious stories to their favorite reporters that write whatever they say without even thinking about, maybe they should go to the state and to the federal government, particularly the state….If anybody needs their phone number, we'll be happy to provide it."

Coalition for the Homeless had no immediate comment.

Update: The Coalition just issued the following statement on behalf of its president, Mary Brosnahan.

Rather than taking responsibility for his Administration's failure, Mayor Bloomberg continues to blame everyone else for record homelessness in NYC. Today, he blames the State and, ludicrously, the Coalition for the Homeless, for ending Advantage – even though Advantage families were returning to shelter in record numbers. Last week, he blamed mentally-ill men and women suffering on our streets for not wanting help – even though he’s still in court trying to make it more difficult for them to get into emergency shelter. He blames homeless families for trying to game the system – even though they clearly have nowhere else to turn.

Mayor Bloomberg can try to deflect attention away from his disastrous policies all he wants, but 50,000 New Yorkers would not be homeless today if he had chosen to invest in the strategy of moving families into permanent, affordable housing that Mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani all used with success.

A record 21,000 girls and boys will go to sleep tonight without a place to call home. A more hopeful future for them depends upon Michael Bloomberg accepting responsibility for his role in the current disaster – and moving swiftly to restore permanent housing for our most vulnerable neighbors.