Homelessness in New York City is a problem, despite what Mayor Michael Bloomberg and spokespeople for the Department of Homeless Services might say. In the last two years alone, the number of people sleeping in municipal shelters has increased 27 percent. Since Bloomberg took office in January 2002, the number has increased 61 percent. To better understand the shocking graph floated around by advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, let’s take a look at significant events impacting homeless numbers in the last 40 years.
January 1974 to December 1989: During the reign of Ed Koch, homelessness became a pervasive problem in the city. “Bums” and “derelicts” could be found most anywhere, but they tended to congregate on “skid row,” which at the time was along the Bowery. The city was not required by mandate to shelter the homeless until 1981, after which Koch established the modern shelter system. (This is when the city began to try to count homeless in their shelters.) Some of the increase during Koch’s terms can be attributed to a rise in mentally ill patients being released to the street after 1960s and 1970s “deinstitutionalization” as well as the crack epidemic, which began around 1984. As the chart shows, numbers rose during this time, but decreased after the epidemic and when many mentally ill were re-institutionalized in jail and nursing homes.
January 1990 to December 2001: The numbers remained steady during the terms of mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani. While addicts and mentally ill homeless decreased, sheltered numbers didn’t decrease because income inequality remained and many of the city’s poor were unable to find affordable housing. At the end Giuliani’s administration, the number of sheltered homeless increased dramatically, by 35 percent from January 2000 to January 2002, when Bloomberg took over.
January 2002 to May 2004: Before and after Bloomberg was first inaugurated, sheltered homelessness saw huge increases as the result of the recession in the early 2000s (which was partly ignited by the Dot-Com boom).
June 2004: In response to the crisis, Bloomberg unveiled a five-year plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds, focusing on programs and interventions that “solve homelessness” as opposed to “simply sheltering individuals and families.”
October 2004: The Bloomberg administration announced they would no longer allow homeless families in emergency shelters to apply for Section 8 federal rent vouchers or public housing, instead offering five-year rent subsidies called “Housing Stability Plus.” Section 8 vouchers provide rent subsidies for an unlimited amount of time. HSP, on the other hand, provided working candidates with shrinking rent grants up to $1,300, depending on family size, for up to five years to working candidates.
April 2007: The city announced the end to “Housing Stability Plus,” which was replaced by “Work Advantage.” The new program provided rental-assistance vouchers up to $1,100 a month for two years or less to sheltered homeless people who found jobs.
March 2011: The state cuts funding for Advantage and the city stopped the program entirely without a replacement. Since then, the number of sheltered homeless has increased 34.6 percent.