[Hpn] Rudy's legacy: Homeless Shelters in New York Fill to Highest
Levels Since 80's
Levels Since 80's
Thu, 08 Feb 2001 12:33:19 -0700
New York Times
February 7, 2001
Homeless Shelters in New York Fill to Highest Levels Since 80's
By NINA BERNSTEIN
The number of homeless people lodging nightly in the New York City shelter
system this winter has risen above 25,000, the most since the late 1980's,
city figures show, with the largest increases coming among women and
children over the last few years.
Officials say no single factor explains the increase in families seeking
shelter. Likely explanations include sharply rising housing costs in an
economic boom, a subway advertisement campaign that encourages victims of
domestic violence to seek help, more court orders for eviction, and declines
in subsidized housing, said Martin Oesterreich, the city's commissioner of
The number of family shelter applicants has grown 10 percent in the last
year alone, he said.
"I can't screw the front door any tighter," Mr. Oesterreich said, in
reference to tough screening procedures started by the Giuliani
administration in 1996, resulting in more families being turned away.
"We are focused on getting through what I view as a temporary crisis," he
added. "That's not to say that I may not be proven wrong, and that this is
instead a major shift in family homelessness."
The increase, Mr. Oesterreich stressed, is part of a national trend. He
cited a 25-city survey by the United States Conference of Mayors that
calculated a 17 percent rise in the number of families applying for help
because of homelessness.
But New York City's system is the only one in the nation that operates under
a court-ordered right to shelter for the truly homeless. On a typical night
this week, it gave beds to 10,177 children and their 8,024 adult family
members, as well as 7,492 single adults. Thousands more do not seek shelter,
but no reliable estimates exist for those on the street.
Seventy-eight percent of homeless shelter residents are in families or are
single women. Twenty-two percent are single men ‹ down from a third in the
Families caught in the overflow, including about 500 families a night
already found eligible for refuge from domestic violence, have been required
in recent weeks to return again and again to the Emergency Assistance Unit
in the Bronx because they had been given beds for only one night. The unit
is the city's sole portal to the shelter system for families.
Mr. Oesterreich said that more families seeking shelter apparently come
straight from being evicted, though most double up with relatives before
seeking official help.
Advocates for the homeless say evictions are an important factor. "The
emergency assistance unit is a window into what's happening in the economy
over all," said Steven Banks, counsel to the Coalition to the Homeless and
to the Homeless Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society.
For example, he said, landlords have been increasingly successful in
obtaining eviction warrants, which were up last year to about 122,000 from
114,000 in 1999, according to the civil court's latest caseload activity
report. The number of evictions actually carried out by marshals is
basically unchanged, he said, but families faced with a warrant often choose
to leave an apartment before they are thrown on the street.
"Whereas the debate for the last few years has been about work programs," he
said, "what we're seeing now is that work isn't enough to keep people out of
the shelter system." The $5.15 per hour minimum wage is not enough to cover
rents greater than $700 or $800 a month, he said.
To a large extent, the latest numbers underline a reality that is already
familiar to scholars, but still counterintuitive to many city dwellers who
associate homelessness with the derelict men and women they see in public
The research of Dennis Culhane, a professor of social welfare policy at the
University of Pennsylvania who has analyzed computerized shelter system data
for New York and Philadelphia shows that by far the most likely person to
become homeless in both cities is a poor African-American child younger than
The daily shelter census is just a snapshot of the total population moving
in and out of homelessness. More than 333,000 individual New Yorkers ‹ 4.6
percent of the city's 1990 population ‹ stayed in public shelters for one
day or more between 1987 and 1996, according to published analysis of
In a little more than two decades, Mr. Culhane added, largely because of an
economic boom that increased demand for urban housing by single adults who
could pay, "homelessness went from a problem afflicting a few thousand
skid-row denizens, to a commonplace way station for millions of America's
Mr. Oesterreich said the city was taking a three-pronged approach to the
problem. A $12 million expansion of the family shelter system over three
years is part of the proposed budget of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. The city
has already sharply increased the number of temporary beds used in hotels ‹
adding 965 beds for families this year, and 300 beds for single adults,
mainly women. The numbers of single women admitted to shelter has been
rising rapidly in the last two years, to 1,714 this week, from 1,200 to
1,300 during most of the 1990's.
Both Mr. Giuliani and Mayor David N. Dinkins had turned away from the use of
hotels as shelters for families in the 1990's, and the bulk of regular
shelter placements are now provided by private nonprofit organization under
city contract. But in December the city had 1,334 families lodged in 29
hotels, city figures show, up from 887 families in 16 hotels in December
An apartment rent subsidy program was announced in October, but it is only
now getting under way, with the first 17 of 350 families selected, but not
The length of stay by families in the shelter system has increased as
families are unable to find affordable apartments. Even those able to obtain
federal housing vouchers ‹ a subsidy sharply cut by Congress in the 1990's ‹
often cannot find landlords willing to accept them. In October, Mr.
Oesterreich said, the city began increasing a bonus paid to landlords who
rent to homeless families, but that move has not eased the bottleneck.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
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