Tonight, and into the wee hours of tomorrow, volunteers will comb streets, parks and subways to count homeless New Yorkers as part of an effort to evaluate strategies for reducing homelessness.
Last year, there were close to 4,000 New Yorkers without shelter. That was fewer than the prior year. But add the number of homeless New Yorkers in the city`s shelter system – 35,000 right now – and we’re still faced with a grim problem.
Social conditions like mental illness and substance abuse can lead to chronic homelessness for single adults. Problems like domestic violence can also result in homelessness for mothers and families. But homelessness has its roots in the shortage of affordable housing. Both the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Coalition for the Homeless point to a lack of affordable housing as the primary cause of homelessness.
In our city, people of color are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Black and Latino New Yorkers are 90 percent of the homeless, according to the Coalition. And homeless shelters are housing at least 14,000 children.
Advocates for the homeless have emphasized subsidized housing with social services as an answer to this crisis. This supportive housing proves far more cost-effective than maintaining families in shelters.
Mayor Bloomberg aims to increase supportive housing by 50 percent in the course of five years. His poverty reduction plan includes boosting the earning capacity of working adults, which is important for keeping low-income families from the brink of homelessness.
But increased earnings for these New Yorkers can’t compensate for skyrocketing housing costs. Affordable housing tailored to neighborhoods at risk, not broad formulas, can help reach some middle ground. Otherwise, it`s an endless catch-up game for people struggling to maintain a roof over their heads.