| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 4 Six weeks before winter
arrives, New York City has begun checking whether single
adults arriving at homeless shelters can instead stay with
friends or families, as the economic downturn makes temporary
public housing more desirable, officials said on Friday.
The new shelter seekers are not limited to the working
"Most are lower-income New Yorkers, but there is a full
range of New Yorkers coming into the system," Seth Diamond,
the commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless
Services, told Reuters.
The new applicants are "a lot of people who are working or
capable of work, who may have gone through a little bit of a
rough time -- their employer may have reduced their hours, or
they may have lost their jobs," he said.
Over the past five years, the number of single adults who
fit this description has risen to represent about 60 percent
of the 1,700 people a month who apply to shelters, he said.
The number of so-called street people -- who otherwise may
spend the night in a subway tunnel or under a cardboard box
placed over a heating grate -- has fallen to less than 15
percent from about one-third of the applicants.
"We've been able to significantly reduce the number of
people on the street," Diamond said.
This drop is due to intensive outreach programs, he said.
That decline is a controversial issue.
CRITICS CALL THIS 'IRRESPONSIBLE'
Homeless advocates say the city undercounts the population
of street people -- and puts too much pressure on homeless
families to turn to friends and families instead of emergency
For about 15 years, Diamond noted that families who come
to shelters have been evaluated to see if they have other
The shelters should be reserved for those with no other
options, in Diamond's opinion.
About 8,000 adults now live in shelters, which house a
maximum of 200 individuals, in "groupings" of up to a dozen.
Centers with employment and health services have replaced the
former much criticized huge barracks, where crimes occurred.
The City Council responded with outrage to the sudden
switch to screening single adults who seek shelter.
"This policy is an irresponsible 'no room at the inn'
approach that does nothing to address the record number of
people experiencing homelessness in New York City as winter
approaches," Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a
An emergency oversight hearing was set for Nov. 9.
Diamond said no one would be immediately turned away.
There is a "conditional" period of 10 days during which people
can stay while their circumstances are evaluated, he said.