NEW YORK (Reuters) - Homelessness has reached an all-time high in New York City because of the recession and the policies of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who once vowed to cut homelessness by two-thirds.
City officials complained that the report by the Coalition for the Homeless was skewed and overlooked an improvement in the current fiscal year, but acknowledged public spending cuts impeded their efforts to combat homelessness.
The rise is fueled in part by the effects of the financial crisis and recession from 2007 to 2009. A record 113,553 different people slept in municipal homeless shelters in fiscal 2010, up 9 percent from the previous year and up 39 percent from fiscal 2002 when Bloomberg took office, the coalition said.
In 2004, Bloomberg pledged to cut homelessness by two-thirds within five years but the number of people spending the night in homeless shelters hit a record of nearly 40,000 people one night in February 2011, the report said.
The homeless in fiscal 2010 included nearly 43,000 children, a 9 percent increase that the coalition blamed on Bloomberg policy change that put a strict time limit on paying rent subsidies for the homeless.
“The mayor’s failed policies have created a revolving door back into shelters, exacerbating the crisis and leading to record levels of homelessness in New York City,” Patrick Markee, author of the coalition report, said in a statement.
Seth Diamond, the city’s commissioner for homeless services, complained the coalition’s report failed to mention that homelessness was down 2 percent in the current fiscal year, from July 1 to present, and down 4 percent among children. He attributed the improvement to a city policy “to emphasize work and employment as opposed to simply waiting around for a subsidy.”
“I think we’ve been very successful in encouraging people to work and moving people out of the system,” Diamond said.
The city will face a new squeeze because the state of New York, facing its own budget shortfall, eliminated spending on the program providing rent subsidies to the homeless as of April 1.
Additional reporting by Joan Gralla; editing by Greg McCune