Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

The Long Fight to End Homelessness

A landmark settlement. A critical report. Calls to action.

Photo Courtney Gross/Gotham Gazette

In the last months, homeless advocates and city officials have seen an array of steps forward - and back - in the fight to end homelessness.

One recent report identified an increase in the amount of homeless families in the city. It also solidified arguments that the Bloomberg administration was far from reaching its goal, put forth in 2004, of reducing the homeless population by two thirds in 2009. Just last week, the Bloomberg administration announced a landmark settlement in a 25-year-old lawsuit, releasing the city from court oversight of its shelter system, while simultaneously guaranteeing New York's families a right to shelter.

These recent developments have not answered the most fundamental questions: Is New York City doing enough to combat homelessness? And what more could - and should -- it do?

In 2004, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his ambitious five-year plan on homelessness, about 37,319 individuals lived in shelters or on the streets. Last week, according to estimates from the Department of Homeless Services, there were 34,299. That is a decrease of just over 8 percent - far from the mayor's laudable goal.

The mayor's figures in his recent Mayor's Management Report give a further indication of the difficulties his administration has had reducing homelessness. While slightly fewer people -- including single adults, adult families and children with families -- go to shelters on an average day, the number of families with children in the shelters has increased since the 2005 fiscal year and in 2008, reached 7,802 families a day.

With one year left to go in this administration, many say the mayor will likely fail to reduce homelessness like he pledged to do. Earlier this year, New York Magazine termed the fight to reduce homelessness as "the single biggest failure of the Bloomberg administration." While supporters see progress, almost no one denies that Bloomberg's efforts at fighting homelessness have fallen far short of his ambitious goals.

In our package of articles, several advocates and officials examine what went right - and wrong.

Getting Families Out of Shelters and Into Homes
by Patrick Markee and Mary Brosnahan

While this week's legal settlement was historic in that it enshrined the right to shelter for city families, New York must do far more to lower the homeless population, say the executive director and senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless.

Prevention is the Best Medicine
by Bill de Blasio

The chair of the City Council's General Welfare Committee suggests several ways to better combat homelessness, such as investing more funding in prevention.

On Track to Ending Homelessness
by George T. McDonald

The president and founder of the Doe Fund writes that no administration has been more innovative, forward-thinking and successful than Mayor Michael Bloomberg's at tackling the challenges of homelessness.

Handing out to the Homeless
by Courtney Gross

Gotham Gazette rides with a group of volunteers distributing meals to Lower Manhattan's homeless.

Fighting Homelessness in Miami
by Ronald Book and David Raymond

In the early 1990s, Miami was overrun with homelessness. Now, thanks to a one-cent tax on certain restaurant meals, the area has become a national model getting people off the streets and into housing and other programs.

( The city's Department of Homeless Services declined to contribute to this package. )


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