398225 03: A panhandler begs for money December 5, 2001 in downtown Cincinnati. The city of Cincinnati is trying to come up with ways to combat the problem of panhandling which they say is keeping people from coming downtown to do their Christmas shopping. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)
The number of New Yorkers who sought refuge in homeless shelters reached an all-time high last year, according to an annual report on the city’s homeless population conducted by advocates.
A record 113,553 people -- nearly 43,000 of them children --- turned to shelters last year, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
The record number represents a 37 percent increase since 2002 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg first took office, according to the 2011 State of the Homeless. The spike included a startling 81 percent increase of families who entered the shelter system, which has soared from 15,996 in 2002 to 28,977 last year. The city Department of Homeless Services disputed the report's findings.
And on a single day in late February this year, 39,542 people slept in a shelter, the highest per-night total ever recorded.
The rate of homeless families who re-entered shelters last year was also at an all-time high. A record 6,294 "repeat families" entered the shelter system last year -- that's three times more than did five years ago. Before 2005, an average of 2,003 formerly-homeless families re-entered the shelter system each year.
The report pinned blame on Bloomberg's “failed policies.”
But the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond defended his agency's performance, disputed the report's findings and called the proposed solutions "unrealistic."
"The coalition is proposing an outdated solution," Diamond said. "The idea of getting more funding from Washington, considering what happened recently with the government almost shutting down, is just not going to happen."
Specifically, the report cites a decision by the Mayor to break from federally-subsidized housing programs in 2005 in favor of state-funded programs to transition people out of shelters.
"For more than six years, the Bloomberg administration has denied homeless New Yorkers access to Federal housing programs, despite overwhelming evidence that those programs successfully help homeless families move from costly shelters to long-term, stable housing," the report said.
One of those programs, Advantage, was terminated by the city in response to the latest budget cuts from Albany, putting its 15,000 current participants at risk of returning to the shelter system.
The Coalition cited the end of Advantage as an opportunity to "abandon the failed experiment" and return to a greater reliance on funding from Federal programs.
But the homeless commissioner said more people in shelters are going to work than ever before, thanks in part to incentive programs like Advantage, which gives subsidies to people who are working.
Diamond also cited difficult economic conditions and severe winter weather to explain the overall increase in people staying in shelters last year.