January Tally of Homeless Found a 13% Rise in the City
New York City’s homeless population increased by 13 percent at the beginning of this year as it continued to buck a national trend, new federal statistics show.
Homelessness, especially among families, has been growing in the city even as the local economy has recovered, and the new data underscores the challenges facing the mayor-elect, Bill de Blasio, who made affordable housing a centerpiece of his campaign.
Nationwide, the number of homeless people dropped by 4 percent from 2012, to 610,042 from 633,782. according to the data, which were released on Thursday by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Homelessness among veterans and some other groups registered notable reductions.
The numbers come from HUD’s annual survey of more than 3,000 cities and counties. On one night in January per locality, field workers tally the number of people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and locations such as cars and abandoned buildings.
In a conference call with reporters, the department’s secretary, Shaun Donovan, said the one-night snapshot showed a “remarkable” drop in national homeless numbers in recent years given the economic downturn. He credited the collaboration among 19 federal agencies in tackling the problem.
But the story is different in New York and Los Angeles, which showed large increases in homelessness.
In New York, where the shelter population has reached levels not seen since the Depression era, the count in January estimated 64,060 homeless people in shelters and on the street in January 2013, or 13 percent more than in January 2012. Among large cities, only Los Angeles had a larger percentage increase. Its homeless population rose by 27 percent, although its total of 53,798 was lower than New York’s.
Federal officials said the increases were driven by a rise in families who could no longer pay their rent, a problem that is more acute in areas where affordable housing is scarce and rents are especially high. The group of very poor renters who pay more than half their income in rent and are struggling to hold onto their homes has grown by 43 percent nationwide since 2007, housing officials said.
Across the country, nearly a quarter of all homeless people, 23 percent, are under 18.
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg set out to make a significant dent in homelessness with an overhaul of policies in the mid-2000s. But instead, the city’s shelters are packed, with more than 50,000 people relying on them. Mr. de Blasio has promised to reverse course by restoring the preference given to homeless families for a portion of public housing apartments and rental subsidies. He has also vowed to negotiate with the state and HUD to create a new rent subsidy program.
Federal officials said the improved national picture was partly driven by a drop in the number of homeless people counted on the streets; the shelter population was actually up by 1 percent nationwide. Bloomberg administration officials noted in a statement that relatively few New York homeless people lived on the street compared with those in other major cities.
“Given our legal mandate to provide safe, temporary emergency shelter to all eligible families and individuals in need every night, we meet this mission successfully, while other cities around the country are putting up ‘no vacancy’ signs and turning families to the streets and to live in cars,” the city’s Department of Homeless Services said in a statement.
But it may get worse before it gets better. Dennis P. Culhane, a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania who helped direct the research in the HUD report on homelessness, said that while the current government programs were having an effect, further progress was not guaranteed.
He pointed to the prospect of many service members’ leaving the military, as well as prison reforms that are leading to the release of some offenders. Mr. Donovan sounded an alarm about further budget cuts by Congress.
“We cannot balance our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society,” he said. “It is simply wrong, but it’s also fiscally foolish.”