Homeless in New York Reply

After 12 years, New Yorkers are getting a new mayor. The city is braced for big change when Bill de Blasio succeeds Michael Bloomberg in January 2014  as Jane McClenahan reports.

Housing Protest in Downtown Manhattan. Photo by Barbara Borst

Housing Protest in Downtown Manhattan. Photo by Barbara Borst

Bloomberg, a billionaire, took charge of a city shellshocked by the attacks of Sept. 11. He pulled New York up, slashed crime rates and attracted big business.  He often threw his own, substantial, money at issues close to his heart. But many critics will remember him as the mayor for the rich, for the business community, forgetting the working class in New York.

Those voters, and many nonprofit organizations working for the homeless, are hoping for a very different approach from de Blasio, New York’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years. He campaigned to end the “tale of two cities”  and “to build one New York, rising together.”

A central pillar of that campaign was affordable housing.  Grand new apartment blocks have been rising in the city over the past few years. In tandem, average rent for an apartment is now more than $3,000 a month.

An estimated 10,000 families – 52,000 people – sleep in homeless shelters every night. That includes nearly 22,000 children. In one of the richest cities in the world. According to figures just released by the Citizen’s Committee for Children (CCC), the number has risen by 23 percent in the past two years. That figure doesn’t include the children and young people who are on the streets or sleeping in shelters for runaway and homeless youth.

So what’s going wrong? United to End Homelessness says the biggest contributors to the rising numbers are the high cost of housing and the lack of public assistance for rentals. The coalition of one hundred organizations highlighted the issue during the 2013 mayoral elections. It is fighting to increase affordable housing, funding for legal services for families and improvements in housing assistance.

Aside from the terrible instability of not having a secure and stable place to live, homeless children also struggle being far from friends and family. They may have to change school, or travel long distances to reach their current one. Citizens Committee for Children also estimates that one in three homeless children in New York has a major mental health issue.

Coalition for the Homeless says the shelter population has risen by 60 percent under Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor and that the number of homeless families is up by 73 percent. The group saluted de Blasio’s victory, saying: “We welcome the chance to work with Mayor-elect de Blasio and his team to forge genuine, housing-based solutions to New York City’s worsening homelessness crisis.” 

Among the reasons the New York Times gave for endorsing de Blasio for mayor was his plan to introduce 200,000 units of affordable housing. Now with his victory, the newspaper and many nonprofit organizations will carefully monitor the incoming mayor’s progress on his promises.

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