It is sad that, as Christians the world over celebrate the birth of a child to a homeless family, New York City is facing a deepening crisis over the plight of its homeless population.
But what is most vexing is that, as thousands of homeless families flood the municipal shelter system, the Bloomberg administration and advocates for the homeless are engaged in what amounts to a battle of words.
It boils down to the advocates saying the glass is half empty and City Hall insisting it's half full.
It is unseemly for the city to say proudly that the system is working when even one family is desperately seeking shelter. And the latest statistics show that the number of homeless families sleeping in municipal shelters in New York City has reached 9,720. It's the highest number reported since the city began keeping track of it's homeless population in 1983. There are more than 36,000 homeless people in New York and 16,000 are children.
In the wake of the severe recession, homelessness is soaring and the Bloomberg administration is boasting of how well the system is working.
“The fact that the system is withstanding the test of recent high demand through difficult economic times and harsh weather conditions is evidence that the agency has successfully reformed our infrastructure and put a solid groundwork in place,” Robert Hess, commissioner of homeless services said.
But Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, sees the situation far differently.
“How ironic,” she says, “that, as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus, New York City records a new all-time record for homeless families. The numbers are staggering and should be a wakeup call to Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg, who has failed miserably in this area, as well as Gov. (David) Paterson, who, just last week, proposed massive cuts to homeless prevention and other vital services. Where is the compassion let alone common sense we expect from our leaders?”
Brosnahan's impassioned statement underlines the seriousness of the problem and the desperation of advocates who champion the homeless.
It is not easy for either the mayor or the governor to balance their budgets in excruciatingly tough times. When it becomes necessary to cut vital services like the NYPD, the dilemma facing our city and state becomes clear. And yet the homeless are among the most helpless and vulnerable of all New Yorkers. Homeless children should have our highest priority.
Instead of patting themselves on the back for the great job they are doing, the mayor and his people should be concentrating on how they can better express the compassion that New Yorkers feel -- and have always felt -- for those most in need.