Addressing Homelessness in NYC
I was walking up 1st Avenue with my father on Sunday morning when we saw a cab driver and a man with suitcases quietly quarreling with each other in front of a closed UFT building.
My father, former New York City cab driver, offered directions. The man held out a ripped piece of paper with an address scribbled on it in blue ink. It read: “400-430 30th St 1st Ave.”
“That’s six blocks up,” my dad said.
As we approached 30th Street, my father asked someone about building number ‘400-430.’
The man took a pull of his cigarette and said, “Yeah, that’s the shelter.”
I was stunned in part by my assumption that the man my father gave directions to was probably coming from the airport, looking for a relative’s home.
But the reality is that more than 50,000 New Yorkers sleep in municipal homeless shelters each night, including over 21,000 children.
Since 2002, the percentage of New Yorkers sleeping in homeless shelters has risen 61% according to the Coalition for the Homeless—that’s the year Bloomberg took office.
During his tenure, Bloomberg has come under fire frequently for his comments about rise of homeless people in the city, including the time he said that people are staying homeless on purpose because the shelter system has improved so much that it’s become “pleasurable.” He also once denied the existence of homeless people in the city at all. Also, in 2012, the Bloomberg administration banned all food donations to government facilities. Bloomberg said that there were some safety concerns with accepting donated food, but many argued that the administration was just taking “food police” to an unprecedented and unnecessary level.
Interestingly enough, Bloomberg recently filed a lawsuit against city comptroller, John C. Liu for rejecting two contracts that would fund shelters in the South Bronx and Upper West Side. Liu argued that Bloomberg’s proposal didn’t mention how many people would benefit from the funding and Bloomberg has failed miserably at helping the city’s homeless regardless.
The next mayor of NYC will undoubtedly have to address homelessness in the city. How do we lower the staggering number of homeless New Yorkers?
Lack of affordable housing is the number one contributor to homelessness, according to Coalition for the Homeless. (NYT said Christine Quinn’s “boldest idea” calls for 80,000 new affordable housing apartments in the city.)
In addition to housing, there needs to be stronger preventative programs in place, like crisis prevention and eviction prevention. For example, Homebase is a government neighborhood-based program that aims to keep families in their homes and out of shelters.
As for us, I think we first need to keep in mind that a number of factors contribute to homelessness including mental illness, domestic problems, and health issues. Even a one-time financial crisis can lead to a family needing to spend time in a municipal homeless shelter. Then, if possible, donate. Donate MetroCards, toiletries, old clothes, shoes, sweaters, coats, books and toys. Anything helps.
I have the luxury of sleeping in my own bed tonight; sadly, more than 50,000 people in my city can’t say the same.