It was a statement born of confidence and boldness. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared in 2004 that he would do what no mayor of his era had done: reduce the city’s homeless population by two-thirds by the time he left office.
The mayor called upon the same traits he is now highlighting, as some say he is paving the way for a presidential bid: private sector know-how, non-ideological approaches, cutting-edge technology and a willingness to take on entrenched issues.
But despite a number of initiatives, including computer tracking and prevention programs, the population of homeless families, after dipping in 2005, reached its highest point in two decades in May.
Families complain that the worst problems of the early 1980s are back, citing overcrowding, late-night busing to overnight beds and filthy conditions. The city disagrees with these characterizations.
Some leading advocates for the homeless, who had taken a hiatus after more than 20 years of litigation against the city, are going back to court, saying that the families the city is turning away are sleeping on the subways and boardwalks — something the city also disputes.
The disappointing results from what was perhaps the mayor’s most ambitious poverty initiative underscore the limits of Mr. Bloomberg’s style of governing, critics say.
His administration spent $79 million for new tools and programs to solve the problem. A new computer system tracked which neighborhoods homeless people came from and how long they stayed in the system, mimicking the Compstat system that the police used to fight crime.
The mayor reached out to some of the most implacable critics of the city’s homeless policy, inviting them in on press conferences and planning sessions.
Then, most controversially, he took aim at what his administration believed was a perverse incentive for those living marginally to become homeless — a city policy that gave homeless families top priority for federal housing vouchers. The city replaced generous federal grants with time-limited rental assistance meant to help out in an emergency while discouraging dependency.
Mr. Bloomberg said he had made the system both “more humane and more accountable.” He and his deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda I. Gibbs, said the goal of a two-thirds reduction in homelessness was more of an inspirational goal than a concrete target.
Still, in a written statement, the mayor acknowledged that the rising number of homeless families was “not acceptable.”