Columnist Gary Mason was right when he wrote in the Sept. 5, 2006,Globe and Mail that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s housing campaign is producing results, but thenumbers are not quite so dramatic as he reports.
The number of homeless people in NYC shelters reached an all-time high in 2003 of 38,310 women, men and children every night ” a legacy of the failed policies of former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani.
On August 31, 2006, New York reported 33,052 people in shelters ” 13,118 children and 19,934 adults. While its down from 2003, the latest number remains higher than any night in 1980s or 1990s.
The current number is much higher than the 4,000 a night quoted by Mason, but it is a welcome step in the right direction. Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment starting in 2002 to fund 65,000 subsidized homes over six years, and the New York City – New York State agreement of 2005 to fund 9,000 new supportive homes starting this year has provided welcome relief to beleaguered New Yorkers.
The challenge is substantial. During the 1990s, New York City lost about half a million affordable rental homes. And poverty is on the rise. The latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers for NYC, released in late August, show that the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer. Statistics Canada reports the same trend in income inequality in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Canada’s other metropolitan areas.
Homelessness can be solved with a combination of supply (new housing) and affordability (poverty reduction) initiatives. The scale of the response has to meet the scale of the need. The small, but significant, drop in the number of NYC shelter users is encouraging. However, the latest cutbacks in housing funding being proposed by the Bush administration, along with growing poverty and a drop in the number of existing affordable homes, all signal that homelessness remains one of the biggest challenges for the Big Apple.
– Michael Shapcott