New York City’s Unsheltered Homeless Population Increased By 40 Percent in 2017
Despite Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to reduce this alarming rate, the problem seems to be deepening.
According to the latest annual survey by the Department of Homeless Services, New York City’s unsheltered homeless population experienced a 40 percent increase. Despite Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to reduce the alarming rate, the problem seems to be deepening. Let’s not forget that during de Blasio’s first year in office, 16 new shelters were created across the city.
The current data shows that there are more than 3,892 people homeless and unsheltered in the city (thus far in 2017). This is an estimation taken on the night of February 6, 2017. At the same time last year, the number was 2,794. It was not until 2005 when the city began to track the unsheltered population – when Michael Bloomberg was mayor.
Steven Banks, Department of Social Services Commissioner, in an interview with POLITICO New York, stated, “After evaluating the first year of HOME-STAT, the most comprehensive street homeless outreach effort in the nation, we’re making enhancements that will enable our outreach teams to reach more New Yorkers living on the street, many of whom have fallen through numerous safety nets and are often resistant to accepting services.”
He also attributes this surge to milder weather on the night the city conducted the count-apparently it was 40 degrees on the February night. For Banks, cold and snow can incentive homeless people to seek temporary shelter. While this could make a case for some researchers, many advocates believe that weather is not an added variable.
Of course there are other factors to take into consideration. We cannot forget about the economic conditions in the city. First, there is a modest increase of 4.8 percent in the median household income. Second, the median rents increased 18.3 percent during this period. Lastly, the city has lost about 150,000 rent stabilized units between 1994 and 2012.
For de Blasio, the homeless crisis has lingered since his first day in office. In fact, he calls it his number one frustration. In December 2016, the city had no choice but to confront the surge of the homeless population by expanding housing to hotels. This measure has been costly and unpopular, yet it has become an option. The New York Times reported that about 12 percent of the total homeless population is now being housed in hotel rooms, compared with just 4 percent in January.
One thing is true, the housing and homeless crises are not new problems. In addition, it is not solely de Blasio’s fault. This situation is one that goes back to previous administrations, policies, as well as the fluctuations in federal and state aid – the public housing system relies heavily on federal funding. And what has happened with it? The money allocated to solve the crises does not increase along with the city’s population. It is just enough to keep the facilities running.
Whatever de Blasio ends up doing will be highly important and critical for his political future. It will receive a lot of attention as the mayor runs for re-election. This challenge seems to continue haunting his administration.