[Hpn] NYC, NY - Homelessness reaches record, mayor search for answers - Boston Herald - August 20, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Wed, 21 Aug 2002 06:32:12 -0500


As homelessness reaches record, New York City and its mayor search for
answers

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Associated Press / Boston Herald - August 20, 2002

NEW YORK - A record number of homeless may force city officials
to use empty convents and YMCAs as shelters - even as they draw
criticism over a decision to move some homeless families into an
abandoned Bronx jail.

The recent surge in homelessness has visibly frustrated Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, whose ``can-do'' public persona has been
tested by the crisis. He says the unusual shelter measures are
among the few options in a city that is growing desperate for
solutions.

``We, by law, have to find them a bed. And we want to find them a
bed.

The problem is they are coming in faster than we have places
to put those beds,'' he said.

Homelessness is hardly a new problem for New York City. City
leaders have cut crime rates and solved other tough urban ills in
recent years, but homelessness has remained a stubbornly common
feature of urban life.

But homeless advocates say the problem is growing notably more dire.

Ann Duggan, a policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless,
said new records are being set each month.

In July, 35,164 people sought shelter - up 66 percent from levels four
years ago. The figure far outpaces the previous record in March 1987,
when 28,737 people sought shelter.

Even more alarming is the growing number of families seeking
shelter: 8,333 did so in July, up from 7,916 in June.

A family's average length-of-stay in a shelter also has climbed, to 11
months, up from five months in the mid-1990s.

The problem has some underpinnings in unemployment, which in New
York City reached a four-year high of 8 percent in May, and now
stands at 7.7 percent. Since Sept. 11, the city has lost some
97,500 jobs.

``Because the economy has slowed down dramatically ... they just
don't have a place to stay,'' said Bloomberg, whose administration
has approached the Archdiocese of New York about converting
unused convents into city shelters.

His Bronx jail conversion plan came under fire last week when lead-
based paint was discovered, and young children were ordered removed.

``There's no simple answer,'' he said. ``You can't just go and
write a check, and that's what the advocates don't understand. If
you could do that, this problem would have been settled a long
time ago.''

Critics say the source of the problem is not only a sour economy
but a lack of political will.

``Mayor (Rudolph) Giuliani, and now Mayor Bloomberg, are bouncing
around from one shortsighted solution to another,'' said Duggan.

``The lack of willingness to invest in a long-term plan is what is driving
the problem.''

Both the city and state cut funds to build affordable housing in
recent years, even as the economy flourished.

And as little new affordable housing was built, the city watched
500,000 affordable housing units - those renting for $500 a month
or less - inch out of the reach of most homeless people from 1991 to 1999.

During his two terms, Giuliani took a ``tough love'' approach to
the issue by reducing funds for programs such as rental assistance.

But Giuliani was forced to expand other, costly programs, which
have been preserved by Bloomberg because courts have ruled that
people have a right to shelter in the city.

For instance, the city pays an average of about $100 each night to house
homeless families in private apartments.

Advocates point out that a two-year rental assistance program -
which includes subsidies as well as career counseling - costs
about $7,500 per person.

In contrast, a shelter bed costs $23,000 a year for a single adult,
and $36,000 for a family.



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