Good News for Bloomberg Means Bad News for the Homeless

Alex Kane Nov 12, 2009

Now that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has won re-election to a third term, what does that mean for policies regarding homelessness in New York City?

While it was not a huge issue during the election campaign, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson did, at times, hammer away at Bloomberg’s policies on homelessness.

Thompson staked out positions that homeless advocates have been fighting the Bloomberg administration on, namely vowing to restore priority in Section 8 housing for the homeless, and saying that he would end the policy of charging rent to the working homeless who live in shelters.

So it might not come as a shock to you to learn that homeless advocates are not pleased with the mayor’s re-election.

Homeless advocacy groups may not have said it outright (many of them are 501c3 non-profits, and sometimes shy away from commenting on political campaigns due to legal issues), but it’s not a stretch to say that Thompson’s stated positions garnered favor with them, and that they would have been much happier with a Thompson administration.

The fact that Bloomberg will govern New York City for the next four years “is not good news for homeless and poor people,” said Piper Hoffman, the director of advocacy for the Partnership for the Homeless.  “The Bloomberg administration has treated homeless people as a problem to be managed by shuffling them among institutional facilities, rather than arranging stable, permanent housing for them and devoting resources to preventing and ending homelessness in New York City for good.”

Certainly, the fight for restoring priority in Section 8 housing for homeless people is one policy that we can expect homeless advocates and the Bloomberg administration to continue to clash over if there is no change of course.

Another important issue to watch out for is whether the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) will reinstate a controversial policy that charged rent to some of the working homeless residing in shelters.  After the policy—which began after the city decided to enforce a 1997 law that hadn’t been enforced before—created uproar, DHS suspended it.  However, Robert Hess, the commissioner for DHS, indicated that the program would be put back in place.  According to the New York Times, Hess expressed hope “that we can end up with a program that makes sense.”

Then there’s the issue of homeless shelters being almost at full capacity even before the winter months hit, and whether DHS will have adequate plans to deal with that surge.

In a prepared statement, Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, said, “it is clear that the Mayor’s policies over his first two terms have not worked and that he must change course.”

Rob Robinson, a formerly homeless board member for Picture the Homeless and a housing campaign organizer, offered a bleak assessment for the next four years, saying that Bloomberg’s re-election “means continued money being poured into a shelter system that only temporarily houses people. I think homeless people will not see any significant policy changes and we can expect the numbers of homeless people in the city will rise.”

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