Lights, ornaments and the most festive of trimmings overlay one of the world’s most bustling metropolises, testaments of a time of season when man’s humanity to man is thought to be as common as the air one naturally inhales.
And yet all is not regal or cheerful in NYC, where the Coalition for the Homeless forecasts that as many as 20,000 children will spend their nights leading up to the grandest of holiday seasons fighting for space and sleeping quarters in dimly-lit, grossly overpopulated shelter facilities spread all across the city’s five boroughs.
Adding to all the woe, experts predict even that number is dramatically on the rise, with as many as 40,000 children spending at least one night over the last year bedding down as residents or guests of the city’s municipal system. Overall, nearly 50,000 men, women and children now call such dwellings home and more than another 5,000 victims reside in other public or private refuges, not to mention the thousands more who foolishly chose to brave all potential elements and roam city streets from dusk to dawn.
“Not since the grim days of the Great Depression has New York City had 20,000 children sleeping homeless each night,” said Patrick Markee, a spokesperson for Coalition of the Homeless.
Research further reveals that African Americans and Latinos are the two demographics most adversely affected by the trend.
Approximately 53 percent of the city’s homeless population is black, while 32 percent identify as Latino and just six percent as white.
And just to think, none of this or, at the very least most of it, has to be. Under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city has heartlessly eliminated all of its federal housing assistance programs, including access to both rental vouchers and public housing options. More recently, Bloomberg even elected to abandon his once much touted Advantage rental subsidy program, an operation which purported to aid homeless families in reestablishing their bearings and returning to the land of permanent home or apartment dwellers.
Beyond the elimination of Advantage, the city’s executive budget now also calls for a 6 percent cut in services for the homeless at a total reduction in funding of more than $22 million. As recently as last August, Bloomberg further raised the ire of advocates by going on the record in asserting “New York City shelters offer a much more pleasurable experience than they ever have before.” Bloomberg went on to add overcrowding in such facilities remains a primary issue because individuals simply “do not want to leave the shelter system.”
“We believe that the people of this city need to know that City Hall has basically thrown up its hands and walked away from this problem, leaving 20,000 kids languishing in homeless shelters,” said Mary Brosnahan, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Twenty thousand homeless kids in New York City is unprecedented and unacceptable, especially because we know the proven, cost-effective and humane solutions.”
Brosnahan adds that at the start of his first term Bloomberg promised to reduce homelessness by two-thirds. Yet, over the course of his ten-year reign, the number of residents residing in shelters has risen by more than 50 percent. Perhaps even more heartbreakingly, families now comprise nearly three-quarters of the total population of such victims and over the last three years alone more than 110,000 different men, women and children have become some level of dependents upon the shelter system.
Further U.S. Bureau of Census data identifies the primary cause of NYC homelessness, particularly among families, as lack of affordable housing. At the same time wages for low-income residents have stagnated or even fallen, rental prices throughout the city have drastically risen.
Survey after survey from among homeless family members has pinpointed the major immediate causes behind such instances as eviction; doubled-up or severe overcrowding, domestic violence and hazardous housing conditions.
“Unless we quickly change course, the lasting legacy of the Bloomberg administration will be a broken homeless system overflowing with children,” added Brosnahan.
To further illuminate the crisis, Homeless Coalition officials have launched a campaign to crystallize the issue. Based on a 2011 public education movement, campaign ads now call attention to the fact there are now more than 4,000 more children living in shelters compared to last year. Under stand-alone photos of children reads the tagline: “Last year, a record 16,000 kids were homeless each night. Tonight, it’s 20,000. Some records should be fixed, not broken.”
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.