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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mike Bloomberg Needs To Improve Services For the Homeless in NYC

NYC Number of Homeless Single Adults in Municipal Shelters, 2008-2009

Capacity Crunch: The NYC Shelter System Risks Running Out of Shelter Beds for the Rising Number of Homeless Single Adults
By Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst, Coalition for the Homeless
October 4, 2009

The number of homeless single adults in the New York City municipal shelter system has risen dramatically this year, largely as a result of rising unemployment and the continuing shortage of affordable rental housing. As winter approaches, the municipal shelter system is virtually at capacity and is at enormous risk of running out of available shelter beds. Indeed, on the night of September 30th there were only two available shelter beds for homeless men, and eight available beds for homeless women.

Unfortunately, NYC Department of Homeless Services officials have offered no plan to expand shelter capacity to meet rising need, even as temperatures are falling and the number of homeless single men and women in municipal shelters continues to increase.

Coalition for the Homeless urges the Bloomberg administration to add needed shelter beds immediately in order to meet the growing need for emergency shelter for homeless men and women this winter. In the long term, the Coalition urges Mayor Bloomberg to accelerate the development of permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals living with mental illness and other special needs, and to restore the City’s longstanding and successful policy of prioritizing homeless New Yorkers for Federal housing assistance.

Background: Dramatic Increase in Homeless Individuals in NYC Shelter System

Amidst rising unemployment and the acute shortage of low-cost rental housing, the number of homeless single adults has risen dramatically this year. Following are highlights of this trend:

* Even before winter begins, the number of homeless single adults in the municipal shelter system this year has increased by more than 7 percent - the largest one-year increase since the 2001 economic recession, and one of the largest year-to-year increases in more than two decades.

* So far this year, the number of homeless single adults in the municipal shelter system has risen every month except for one – a virtually unprecedented trend.

* Historically, the homeless adult shelter population rises in winter months and declines in the warmweather summer months. However, this year the number of homeless single adults in municipal shelter rose throughout the summer, a trend which has not occurred since the 2001 economic recession.

* So far this year, the number of homeless men seeking shelter at the City’s central intake center (located at the Bellevue shelter on the east side of Manhattan) has increased by 8 percent compared to last year. The number of homeless men seeking shelter who are new to the shelter system has increased by 10 percent.

NYC Homeless Men Seeking Shelter Each Day at Intake Center

* This year is the first to see an increase in the homeless adult shelter population since 2004. The number of homeless adults residing in NYC municipal shelters had declined in recent years, largely due to an expansion in the number of permanent supportive housing units and the targeting of supportive housing units to long-time shelter residents..

NYC Municipal Shelter System Running Out of Beds for Homeless Single Adults

* As the number of homeless adults has risen this year, municipal shelters for homeless single men and women have been at more than 99 percent of capacity. At the same time, shelters for homeless veterans and for chronic street homeless individuals (so-called “safe haven” shelters) – whose use is restricted to special populations – have also been near capacity.

* Currently there are 7,704 total municipal shelter beds for homeless single adults (which includes 6,912 municipal shelter beds, 411 “safe haven” beds, and 381 beds for homeless veterans). On many recent nights there have been more than 7,500 homeless adults in municipal shelters, utilizing more than 97 percent of all shelter beds.

* This September, the number of available municipal shelter beds for homeless adults has reached critically low levels. On many nights there were fewer than 25 available beds for homeless women and fewer than 50 beds for homeless men. On the night of September 30th, there were only two available shelter beds for homeless men, and only eight available beds for homeless women.

NYC Homeless Men Seeking Shelter Each Day at Intake Center

* Despite the acute shortage of shelter beds, NYC Department of Homeless Services officials have failed to articulate a plan for adding needed shelter capacity. (In fact, this summer the City actually closed a 150-bed shelter for homeless men.) In the cold-weather winter months, the nightly homeless adult shelter population historically increases by hundreds of people.

The Need for Immediate and Long-term Action

The Bloomberg administration needs to act now In order to avoid an even worse shelter capacity crisis this winter. Coalition for the Homeless calls on Mayor Bloomberg to enact the following immediate and longterm measures:

1. Expand Emergency Shelter Capacity for Homeless Adults This Winter:

* The NYC Department of Homeless Services must add new shelter beds to the municipal shelter system this winter sufficient to meet the rising need for shelter.

2. Accelerate Construction of Permanent Supportive Housing:

* In 2005, the City and State signed a ten-year agreement to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless people living with mental illness and other special needs.
* However, more than half of the newly-constructed supportive housing – 3,276 units of the planned 6,250 new units – will not be built until at least 2011.
* City and State officials should accelerate the development of supportive housing for homeless people with special needs.

3. Target Federal Housing Aid to the Homeless:

* In 2005, the Bloomberg administration cut off homeless New Yorkers from longstanding priority for Federal housing programs, including Section 8 vouchers and public housing.
* This year the City will distribute more than 12,000 Section 8 vouchers and more than 5,000 public housing apartments will be available to rent – but virtually none to the homeless.
* Numerous studies show that Section 8 vouchers successfully reduce family homelessness.
* Reversing the City’s misguided policy will move thousands of homeless families and individuals to permanent housing – and will save City taxpayer dollars spent on emergency shelter.

Note: All homeless shelter population data is from the New York City Department of Homeless Services. For more information, please visit

Mayor Bloomberg needs to stop hiding on the homeless issue
by Errol Louis, Sunday, October 4th 2009, 4:00 AM

The arrival of autumn's first chill coincides with a bombshell report, to be released by the Coalition for the Homeless this week, showing that the city's shelter system is filled to bursting, unable to take in another homeless person.

New York City maintains more than 7,500 beds for single homeless adults, but on Sept. 28, according to Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst of the coalition, official city figures revealed that virtually every single adult bed was filled, leaving only nine empty beds for homeless men and 30 for women.

Two nights later, on Sept. 30, there were only two empty beds in the entire city system for homeless men. Two.

"You have a municipal shelter system that is literally on the verge of running out of beds," says Markee.

That's not supposed to happen. The system for homeless adults includes 6,912 municipal shelter beds, 381 beds for homeless veterans, and 411 "safe haven" beds for domestic abuse victims and other special cases. And even when those beds are all filled, the city literally isn't allowed to run out of beds.

In 1981, the courts established that in New York State the homeless have a constitutional right to shelter, and a standing court order, known as Callahan vs. Carey, remains in effect to this day. The order requires the city to shelter however many homeless people arrive at the front door.

So as a practical matter, the city must find a way to accommodate more people when the weather grows cold.

Department of Homeless Services officials say the agency decides how and when to expand shelter capacity as the need arises. Unused space in existing shelters will be used first, they say, with new shelters opened as a last resort.

"We are looking to bring on additional beds," says George Nashak, a DHS deputy commissioner. "We have seen an unprecedented demand for shelter on the adult side."

But advocates say City Hall, warned of growing problems, dithered while the crisis grew.

"The city literally has no plan," says Markee. On a recent visit to the central intake center for homeless men in Manhattan, says Markee, he met a man who showed up at 7:30 in the evening, desperate for a place to sleep - and was still waiting for help at 2:30 the next morning.

"It was complete chaos," he says. "Next month, if they don't do something dramatic, they're going to literally run out" of space.

The timing - "next month" - matters greatly, given the Nov. 3 mayoral election.

Voters must judge whether Mayor Bloomberg responded to indicators that were obvious long before the economy crashed last year.

According to the Mayor's Management Report, the 311 system recorded a steadily rising number of calls related to homelessness in recent years.

The 105,150 calls received in fiscal year 2009 are nearly triple the 50,751 calls in FY 2005.

The same report shows the number of homeless families increasing by more than 61% during the same years, to 12,959 from 8,027.

Nashak touts administration successes like moving 10,000 adults a year out of shelters and into permanent housing.

At least he's willing to talk about the issue. Bloomberg, on the other hand, would just as soon change the subject.

In August, when challenged on the city's homeless policies by his Democratic challenger, Controller Bill Thompson, the mayor told my Daily News colleague Frank Lombardi there would be "plenty of time" to debate the matter "after the election."

That won't cut it. The Bloomberg administration needs to answer questions right now about what it did - and did not do - to stem a growing homelessness crisis that's about to get much worse.

NYC Voters Do Not Like Bloomberg's Grab For a Third Term

October 4, 2009
Voters Like Mayor, but Not His Path to 3rd Run

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign can generate reams of statistics on how quickly the city repaired potholes in each neighborhood. It can produce memos on climate change and public health, and even translate fliers into Creole.

Just don’t ask about term limits.

Rosemary DeStefano found that out on her doorstep in the Bronx the other day when a Bloomberg volunteer showed up, asking for her vote.

When she complained about how the mayor had the law changed to stay in office, the volunteer recited details of his economic plan. When she persisted, he extolled Mr. Bloomberg’s promise to create 400,000 jobs.

“They missed the whole point,” she said.

With four weeks remaining until Election Day, little seems uncertain in the contest between the colossally advantaged incumbent, Mr. Bloomberg, and his lesser-known rival, William C. Thompson Jr.

But interviews with both campaigns and dozens of voters reveal that anger over a single issue still simmers, seemingly immune to a flood of television commercials and glossy brochures.That bedevils Bloomberg advisers and gives hope to his underfunded challenger.

Disenchantment over the change in the law helped topple four veteran City Council members this fall, the greatest repudiation of incumbents in a generation, and has catapulted two local lawmakers who opposed the measure into citywide office.

“The Bloomberg campaign can’t convince voters to not be upset about this. It won’t work,” said John H. Mollenkopf, a professor of political science at City University who has informally advised the Bloomberg campaign.

“If you ask New Yorkers what they did not like over the last eight years,” he added, “term limits is the major negative.”

Mr. Thompson is building his entire campaign around the topic, adopting the slogan “Eight Is Enough,” accusing the mayor of breaking his word and preparing commercials that portray him as a power-hungry mogul who plays by his own rules.

Mr. Thompson’s campaign aides have told undecided voters to express their outrage over term limits by supporting him, whether they like him or not. And Mr. Thompson will make it a major line of attack during two debates and turn it into a rallying cry in the days leading up to Election Day, the anniversary of the term limits change, which Mr. Bloomberg signed into law on Nov. 3, 2008. “It will be a big theme,” said Eduardo Castell, Mr. Thompson’s campaign manager.

The mayor’s political advisers privately acknowledge the public anger, but since they cannot reverse Mr. Bloomberg’s actions, they are looking for ways to deflect attention from it.

They have created a new round of commercials that play up Mr. Bloomberg’s middle-class roots, to soften his image as an imperious billionaire who defied the will of the voters.

They are leveling frequent attacks at Mr. Thompson’s record, as president of the Board of Education and comptroller, to send the message that, even if voters are still resentful about term limits, they would be foolhardy to choose an untested leader.

If voters insist on talking about term limits, volunteers are instructed to tell them the mayor “is not guaranteed” a third term and has given them “more choice” by changing the rules.

“Bill Thompson wants to make this election about one issue,” said the mayor’s campaign manager, Bradley Tusk. “And given his track record that’s understandable. But the performance of the mayor has an enormous impact on people’s lives, and because of that, voters choose their mayor based on very real tangible issues.”

No one is predicting that resentment over term limits will, by itself, be enough to cost the mayor the election. But in interviews, political analysts and pollsters said that unease over the issue helps account for a stubborn anomaly in New Yorkers’ feelings about the mayor. Polls consistently show that a large majority (roughly 70 percent) approve of his performance, but that a significantly smaller number (50 percent) plan to vote for him in November.

The 50 percent figure has not budged in months, even though the Bloomberg campaign has spent about $65 million to promote the mayor’s record. “Term limits has a lot to do with that,” said Geoff Garin, Mr. Thompson’s pollster. “It has put a ceiling on good will toward the mayor.”

Marilyn Arthold, 64, who lives in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, said she liked the mayor but was considering voting against him because of how he changed term limits.

“He did it the wrong way,” she said.

Her neighbor, Anna May, who would give only her first and middle name, agreed: “I didn’t go to college, but I know right from wrong. This was wrong.” She said she would vote for Mr. Thompson.

Those involved in the mayor’s campaign said the issue has unexpected staying power, a year after City Hall introduced the legislation allowing officials to serve three consecutive terms, not two.

“It comes up a lot with voters,” said one campaign staff member. In the fall of 2008, when Mr. Bloomberg and his aides fought to change the rule, they made two predictions: that voters would be distracted by the presidential election, and that any anger over the move would recede by Election Day 2009.

They may have been overoptimistic, pollsters and analysts said.

“The anger in the electorate remains an inconvenient truth for the Bloomberg campaign,” said Bruce N. Gyory, a political consultant.

New York voters approved a referendum limiting council members and officials elected citywide to two four-year terms in 1993, and then ratified that vote in a second referendum in 1996. Mr. Bloomberg, in overturning the law, rewrote it through legislation that was approved by the City Council; critics and good-government groups said any change should have gone before the voters.

Mr. Bloomberg was previously outspoken in his opposition to changing term limits, saying any effort to do so would be a “disgrace.”

Just how much it will hurt him on Election Day remains an open question, however. Many voters who intensely opposed the change said they planned to vote for him, citing his skills as a manager and a weak opponent.

“If it were anyone else, I would probably be against him,” said Carlo Dioguardi, who lives in Battery Park City and voted in favor of term limits. “I don’t think anyone else can do the job he’s done.”

As for those who are less forgiving?

The campaign’s strategy of changing the topic occasionally backfires. A few days after Ms. DeStefano’s confrontation with a Bloomberg campaign volunteer in the Bronx, a handwritten letter from a campaign volunteer arrived, ticking off the mayor’s plans to improve the economy in the borough. Ms. DeStefano, a 75-year-old Republican, tore it up.

“I didn’t ask about jobs,” she said. “I asked about term limits.”