A controversial change to the city’s homeless policy was panned by advocates and lawmakers during a City Council hearing Wednesday that coincided with the release of a report that indicates the city’s shelter population reached an all-time high last week. NY1’s Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
It’s a process that has long applied to homeless families, but now single adults who show up at homeless shelters must also be found eligible through an interview process that will inquire about their other options, like staying with friends or family.
“I oppose the entire spirit and intent of this change, as I have for homeless families, because I believe it is nothing more than harassment,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
At a hearing Wednesday, City Council members blasted the new policy, arguing it will drive more people onto the streets and noting that the change, which is due to take effect Monday, was rushed through without notification.
However, city officials say 60 percent of men currently seeking shelter were previously staying with friends or family and that this ensures the system is reserved for those who truly have no other options.
“This policy is designed to look at people who have housing alternatives. The street is not a housing alternative. I think we can all agree on that. Living with family or friends: Those are housing alternatives. Those are what we’re going to explore,” said Seth Diamond, Department of Homeless Services commissioner.
The hearing came the same day advocates released a report showing the city’s shelter population reached an all-time high last week of more than 41,000, including a record 17,000 homeless children.
“When you hear a number like 17,000 children, you know that something’s gone terribly wrong in our city,” said Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless.
Back in 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg set a goal of cutting street homelessness and the homeless shelter population by two thirds. Instead, according to the new report, the homeless shelter population has increased by one third since Bloomberg took office.
Bloomberg seemed to take issue with the report’s numbers.
“Our intent is to make sure that nobody sleeps in the street. That’s the first thing, and we’ve been doing that. And the process of making sure that the people who come into the shelter system is not abused,” said Bloomberg.
Advocates say they’ll be in court Thursday in an effort to block the new policy from taking effect.