New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2004 plan to cut homelessness in the Big Apple by two-thirds produced an almost immediate decline in the number of people in homeless shelters. But the latest numbers show a sharp upward spike to the highest number of homeless families in two decades. All the details are available from the NYC Department of Homeless Services and you can read more details from the New York City Coalition for the Homeless.
Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign was prompted, in part, by the Blueprint to End Homelessness in New York City (available in the Housing and Homelessness section of the Wellesley Institute web site). The NYC Blueprint was, in turn, a major inspiration for the Wellesley institute’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto (released last fall).
So, why are the numbers climbing up in NYC despite Mayor Bloomberg’s political commitment? The answer is a cautionary tale for Toronto. Homeless solutions require a dedicated financial commitment to affordable homes. The U.S. federal government has been falling short in funding affordable homes (despite the oft-repeated call by George Bush’s housing czar, Philip Mangano, for “housing first” as the solution to homelessness), and NYC itself has been trying to get the job done without making a serious financial commitment. It’s rent subsidy program is pretty thin and there’s not enough new homes being built. And, to top it all off, poverty is growing rapidly in NYC – generating even more need for affordable homes.
The lesson for Toronto: Ending homelessness requires more than earnest proclamations from politicians. It requires the specific application of practical resources (including money for new affordable homes and for rent subsidies for existing housing). Toronto has been abandoned by senior levels of government in recent years when it comes to housing funding.