Chen: Mayor Bloomberg, open your eyes to NYC's growing homeless problem
Recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who prides himself on riding the subway like a true plebe, dismissed a question about the city's homelessness epidemic by trumpeting, "Nobody's sleeping on the streets."
By "nobody," Bloomberg apparently meant the several thousand people living on the streets, amid some of the world's priciest real estate, who were counted in an official census last winter, which advocates say reveals only a sliver of the problem.
Or Bloomberg may have been more literally referring to all the nobodies who aren't sleeping on the streets tonight, but might be next week.
The latest report by Coalition for the Homeless estimates that more than 50,000 people stayed in a city shelter on any given night in January, a record. And another several thousand were on the street or in other shelters. Among our homeless neighbors were about 21,000 children. That means roughly one out of every 100 New York kids was living in a shelter.
Over the past year, family homelessness has spiked by 18% to nearly 12,000 families -- a stark reminder that homelessness isn't just about the lone vagabonds the public imagines when they hear the word, but a national underclass absorbing more of the working poor every day. All it takes is one foreclosure or a disaster like superstorm Sandy to tip a household onto the sidewalk.
And once they're out there, it's often impossibly hard to climb back up. Families face deep shortages of affordable housing, a lack of living-wage jobs and anemic welfare programs that fail to deal with the myriad needs of distressed families. While presiding over an epic homelessness spike, Bloomberg has drastically limited permanent housing programs to exclude many desperate families, including people who work or are seeking employment.
The Coalition calls for an integrated approach that combines moving families immediately into permanent affordable homes with the help of federal resources, along with more comprehensive social services to stabilize people so they stay housed.
As the mayor seeks to cinch up his three-term legacy, he should take a hard look at his record of making New York a city for the rich and a near-hell for countless others. Just because he refuses to see all those "nobodies" on the streets doesn't mean they shouldn't be heard.