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    November 22, 2003

    Mayor Seeks 10-Year Plan to Address Homelessness

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN

    The city is putting together a plan to end chronic homelessness in the next 10 years, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday.

    Though he praised the city's extensive shelter system as compassionate, the mayor said it was not enough.

    "We find ourselves at a painful impasse," Mr. Bloomberg said, in an announcement that was long on philosophy and short on details. "We keep focusing on crisis management, on how to deal with who shows up that night. It is time to look at causes and see if we can't prevent people from showing up at all."

    The announcement comes as the city's shelters are bursting with a record 40,000 homeless adults and children.

    Since Mr. Bloomberg took office, his commissioner of homeless services, Linda I. Gibbs, has sharply increased the rate at which families leave shelters for permanent housing and has introduced new accountability provisions for shelter providers and for the homeless themselves.

    But perhaps the most direct inspiration for establishing a committee to end chronic homelessness in the city comes from Washington, where President Bush's Interagency Council on Homelessness has the goal of ending the problem nationwide in a decade.

    The council has been encouraging localities throughout the country to create such plans, and many other cities have started similar planning processes.

    Washington is mostly seeking to end street homelessness among chronic substance abusers and people who are mentally ill, but the New York plan will take a broader approach because it must deal with many homeless families, Commissioner Gibbs said.

    She outlined four basic goals that the task force on planning will use as guideposts, including ending street homelessness and focusing more resources on preventing homelessness. What this is most likely to mean in concrete terms is a shift in budget priorities away from a roughly $580 million-a-year shelter system.

    "Since 1999, this agency's budget has grown by $244 million," Ms. Gibbs said. "We need to look at those considerable resources and see how we could spend them more wisely, toward supportive housing, rental assistance and permanent community."

    The announcement of the planning process was met with skepticism by some advocates for the city's homeless, who argued that there was already ample evidence on how to solve the problem, mainly by providing more money for supportive housing for the mentally ill and low-income housing for indigent families. The cause could be better served by an infusion of funds than by the creation of another planning group, they said.

    "The time for study is long past," said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. "We have a proven track record of what works. We desperately need more capital dollars for bricks and mortar, and we need more resources, beginning with the federal government."

    City officials said that advocates for the homeless would be included in the planning process, but that the main considerations in developing the steering committee were to involve people from the private and nonprofit sectors to work with government. The co-chairmen for the planning group are Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, senior vice president at the United Way of New York; William C. Rudin, the president of Rudin Management Company; and Peter Madonia, the mayor's chief of staff.


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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    Sounds optimistic.

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    February 21, 2004

    Homelessness Census Going Outside Manhattan

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN

    On Monday night, as the hour reaches midnight, some 2,000 volunteers will spread out across New York City for the second annual census of the homeless. This year, volunteers will go beyond Manhattan's byways and subway stations and will attempt to count people living on the streets of Brooklyn and Staten Island as well.

    Volunteers will not actually survey all of this territory, but will instead comb much smaller areas on foot, and the number of people they find will serve as the basis of an estimate for the whole population. Because of this unscientific guesswork and because volunteers will not be looking in abandoned buildings or subway cars, nonprofit groups that advocate on behalf of the homeless say they believe the survey will undercount the street homeless.

    "We continue to feel that the flawed methodology serves to mislead the public on the true scope of the problem,'' said Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless.

    But Linda I. Gibbs, the commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, says understanding as much as possible about the extent and location of the street homeless is key to reducing their numbers. "What you measure is what you manage,'' she said, "and it is critical to repeat the count so we can understand how strategies that we adopted in response to the knowledge gained last year are having the effect of reducing the number of people on the street.''

    Ms. Gibbs said that last year's survey, for example, which identified 1,763 people living on the streets of Manhattan, taught the department that the homeless do not congregate more densely in high-traffic areas like Pennsylvania Station and Union Square Park, as the city had thought. As a result, she said, the city has advised its homeless outreach teams to make their efforts more widespread and to check less-populated places.

    Attempting to track street homeless in the other boroughs poses different challenges than in Manhattan, said Jim Anderson, the spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services, because they include more parkland and more single-family dwellings, and as a result are expected to have different patterns of street living. Staten Island, for example, has tent camps in wooded areas.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    February 27, 2004

    Advocates for Homeless Offer Cautious Praise for City Changes

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

    Straining against the tide of record levels of homelessness in New York, the Bloomberg administration is trying a variety of new approaches to address the problem, many significantly different from those the city has followed for two decades.

    In the past few years, the number of homeless families in the shelter system has risen significantly; more than 9,000 families are in need of shelter each night, an increase of almost 50 percent since 2001.

    The administration's new policies have included trying to get people out of shelters and into apartments, putting millions of dollars into prevention programs, and seeking to end the litigation concerning the city office where homeless families enter the shelter system. Those steps and others are winning cautious praise from experts and advocates on homelessness, who see in them a chance to reshape the approach to a problem that has proven vexing.

    "This really is a new way of looking at how you manage and respond to a homeless crisis and community that does not have the resources to respond," said Frederick Shack, senior vice president of client services at Help USA, one of the largest providers of shelters.

    By increasing a supply of subsidized apartments, the administration moved 3,500 families into permanent housing during the last fiscal year, the largest number in the 11-year history of the Department of Homeless Services, and a 57 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Though the list of families waiting for apartments remains long, the movement of such large numbers has left many advocates hopeful.

    Last summer was the first time since 1998 that no families slept on the floor of the Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx during its busiest season, even though the number of families in the system - 9,097 as of Wednesday - is roughly double what it was 1998.

    For the first time in two decades, the courtrooms that have served as battlegrounds between the city and advocates for homeless families have remained quiet for over a year. The protracted court battles have been replaced with a Special Master's Panel charged with resolving immediate problems within the shelter system.

    For decades, there have been courtroom battles over matters like where homeless families sleep at night and what amenities must be available to them, but now the panel is also looking at the entire problem and suggesting long-term reforms to the system.

    "It really is about solving the problem, understanding its causes and helping people get access and long-term solutions to the problem," Mr. Shack said. The moratorium on courtroom battles alone, he said, has "the potential to alter the entire system."

    In many ways, the administration's approach to homelessness reflects the management template that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has placed over much of city government since he took office in 2002.

    He has forced agencies that have traditionally worked independently, if not as adversaries, to attack problems as a group, supervised closely by one of his key aides. Policy decisions are shaped more by data and spreadsheets than by ideology. Mr. Bloomberg also makes ample use of private sector help, often with government subsidies. And, allergic to litigation, Mr. Bloomberg has charged his corporation counsel to avoid it.

    Shortly after taking office, Mr. Bloomberg ordered his chief of staff, Peter L. Madonia, to oversee a broad initiative to tackle some of the most intractable problems in the homelessness system. Mr. Madonia began to oversee weekly meetings of the commissioners, or their deputies, of the agencies that have a hand in the issue, including the public housing authority, the tax department, the Human Resources Administration and the mayor's corporation counsel. The group meets every Friday morning, and commissioners are expected to come with new data, suggestions or solutions.

    The New York City Housing Authority, consequently, devised three plans to move more homeless families into apartments. One was to release more empty apartments during midsummer, when need is the greatest, and by pushing homeless families up the list above others waiting for apartments. Another was to increase the number of vouchers for Section 8, the federal rent-subsidy program, available to landlords who provide housing to low-income residents. Over the last two years, the city has been able to obtain 12,000 new vouchers for Section 8 housing, up from 2,700 in the 2002 fiscal year.

    At the same time, the housing authority tried to make it more palatable for landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers by addressing long-standing complaints about the system, including cumbersome paperwork and slow city reimbursement.

    As a result, said the chairman of the housing authority, Tino Hernandez, "In 2003 we had the most rentals in the history of the housing authority - 11,000 units." However, the important Section 8 program may be threatened by the federal government's plan to reduce the number of those vouchers.

    Soon after the Bloomberg administration took office, it sought an agreement with Legal Aid lawyers to end litigation over the Emergency Assistance Unit, the office in the Bronx where homeless families report to enter the system, and instead put in place the Special Master's Panel to mediate issues and help the city reorganize its overall approach.

    The group first came out with recommendations about preventing homelessness, something that was never addressed in the myriad of court cases that dictated city policies on homelessness for years. The administration has committed millions of dollars to a pilot program in five neighborhoods to prevent homelessness.

    Within a month, the panel is expected to present recommendations that would shift how homeless families enter the shelter system, perhaps eliminating the Emergency Assistance Unit in its present form, which would be the most radical change in the system since homelessness first became a major city problem more than two decades ago.

    "The idea was to remove everything from the courts and glare of publicity and work quietly with a special master panel," said Michael A. Cardozo, the city's corporation counsel.

    The mayor has not abandoned the courts completely. Last year, at the urging of his commissioners, the administration dug in and fought in court to allow the city to evict disruptive residents from shelters and to force families that refuse multiple housing offers to move into an apartment of the city's choosing.

    "We felt we had the legal right to do it, and Linda felt from the policy point of view it was very important," Mr. Cardozo said, referring to Linda Gibbs, the commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, who tellingly has a pair of boxing gloves hanging in her office.

    The city is also for the first time holding shelter operators to performance standards that are similar to private sector contracts and will reduce payments to operators who do not meet the standards.

    "They are very focused on looking at the data that exists and looking at sensible solutions," said Lauren Pareti, the executive director for the Council on Homeless Policies and Services, which represents shelter operators.

    At the same time, she said, shelter operators had other complaints, arguing the administration has done a poor job of updating its records to reflect improvements, and keeping payments flush with rising costs. She noted that the city budget for overhead has not gone up in 12 years.

    Some advocates for the homeless, while crediting the administration with increasing subsidized housing, feel the city's victories may not do enough to handle the rise in the number of homeless families.

    Further, the legal ceasefire could end. Steven Banks, a lawyer for Legal Aid, hinted that he might skirt the Special Master's Panel and sue the city over the policy of separating married couples within the shelter system.

    The city and the panel are both hoping to avoid such piecemeal litigation. "The reality is that we are looking for real structural improvements, not doing patchwork on a single issue," said Gail Nayowith, a member of the panel.

    Mr. Bloomberg has frequently cited homeless services as one of his agency's greatest successes so far. "I think the mayor has set the tone," said Ms. Gibbs. "It is clear to me that he expects individual agencies to identify the things they need to work on and do it. It is a permission, but also a responsibility."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    March 2, 2004

    Children in Shelters Hit Hard by Asthma

    By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

    A rare health study of homeless children shows that about half of those entering the New York City shelter system have asthma, a finding that underscores the increased health risk to the most vulnerable population and the challenges faced by those who serve them.

    Asthma is on the rise nationally, and experts have long known that children in poor, urban areas are most likely to suffer from it, largely because of lung irritants like cockroach feces, secondhand smoke, diesel soot, mold and dust. Researchers have found that as many as 25 percent of children living in some of New York's poorest neighborhoods have asthma.

    An even higher rate among homeless children may not be surprising at first glance, though the authors of this study - from Columbia University, the Children's Health Fund, Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine - say they were taken aback by the numbers.

    But the report, published in the March issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, offers an unusual glimpse of the added health risks to people living chaotic lives and trying to control a disease that requires constant monitoring and medication. Publication comes as a growing number of New Yorkers are seeking shelter.

    The report finds that 90 percent of the homeless children with severe, persistent asthma were not taking the anti-inflammatory medicine needed to control it. Even among those whose families knew they had asthma because it had previously been diagnosed, 80 percent of those with severe, persistent asthma were not on medication. And almost half of all the cases had not been diagnosed before the study.

    The study surveyed 740 children as their families entered three unidentified homeless shelters in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The researchers asked parents questions about possible asthma symptoms or a previous diagnosis, and gave a physical examination to any child who appeared to have the disease.

    They found that 40 percent of the children had clear-cut cases of asthma: either a previous diagnosis by a doctor or persistent symptoms, categorized as moderate to severe, at the time researchers saw them. When milder symptoms were included, they found that 50 percent of the children had symptoms when examined, and that 54 percent had a prior diagnosis or current symptoms, or both.

    "As far as we know, these rates are the highest documented anywhere," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, one of the report's authors. "We searched the literature and couldn't find anything even close to that."

    Asthma, a potentially fatal constriction of the airways, is a leading cause of hospitalization among children and causes about 200 deaths a year in New York City. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has estimated that 6 percent of children nationally have the disease, and it is on the rise.

    The research on homeless children was done in 1998 and 1999 but not published until now because of a lengthy peer review process. Dr. Redlener, an associate dean at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia and president of the Children's Health Fund, said further research in 2002 and 2003 found the same overall rate of asthma symptoms, 50 percent, but a lower rate of children with moderate to severe symptoms, perhaps indicating better management.

    In those intervening years, the population of the city's shelter system has ballooned. In recent weeks, the family shelters have housed more than 9,000 families with more than 16,000 children each night, the most in the system's two decades and nearly double the numbers from the late 1990's.

    "Even if, child for child, the problem is a little less severe, there are so many more homeless children now that the problem has only grown," Dr. Redlener said.

    Yet advocates for the homeless say little is known about the health of homeless people because few academic studies have been done, and no one makes a systematic effort to collect information in the shelters and elsewhere.

    Health care for people in shelters is an inconsistent patchwork, much like the shelter system itself. There are about 160 family shelters around the city - some run by the city, most by private groups - and under state rules, each one is supposed to make some arrangements for its residents to receive medical care. Most shelters send residents to nearby clinics, and some have private groups like the Children's Health Fund or Care for the Homeless come in.

    But advocates for the homeless say that in many cases, the care available is inconvenient or inadequate.

    "The truth is, no one is required to do a great deal with respect to the health of people in the shelters," said Frederick Shack, senior vice president for client services at Help USA, which runs several homeless shelters. "These are families that usually are overwhelmed, and have a significant number of other health issues in the household, so it's easy for something like a child's asthma to get missed."

    James Anderson, a spokesman for the city's Department of Homeless Services, said the city made sure that shelters have ties to clinics, but added, "We're not a medical-service provider."

    Dr. Redlener said a particularly serious obstacle to medical care is frequent placement of homeless families in shelters far from their old neighborhoods, making it difficult for those who had doctors to keep seeing them. That practice also takes children out of their schools, and takes people away from jobs, friends and extended family.

    The Bloomberg administration has acknowledged the problem and, by its own account and that of the advocates, worked hard to remedy it. But people who work with the homeless say it persists.

    As to why homeless children are more likely to have asthma than others in their neighborhoods, there is some uncertainty. The children studied were newly homeless, and the report states that their housing conditions, while very poor, had probably not been much different from their neighbors'.

    The researchers propose that what sets these children apart may be stress. They cite research showing that factors like having a mother who is hospitalized or who suffers from depression is related to asthma in their children.

    "Homeless children are particularly likely to have high levels of exposure to stressors, trauma and mental health issues," the report says. "Families that become homeless often do so after experiences of domestic violence, loss of jobs and loss of social support."


    March 8, 2004

    A Plague for the Young Homeless

    A startling study of children entering the New York City homeless shelter system in 1998 and 1999 found that half of them were asthmatic. An overwhelming percentage of the worst stricken were not receiving regular care. The rate of affliction seems to have remained constant since the study was completed, while the number of children in city shelters has nearly doubled to 16,000.

    While New York's numbers are the highest documented, the chronic illness is on the rise in other cities. The New York study, published in the March issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, underscores the vulnerability of urban populations that lack housing and access to primary health care. Low-income living environments are often the perfect hosts for lung-irritating particles, like dust, sooty air and the waste of household pests. Unhealthy nutrition is a co-conspirator.

    New York has worked to reduce hospitalizations for asthmatic children in high-risk neighborhoods, but the special needs of children without the stability of a home have been harder to address. The illness — whose attacks can be triggered by a mere whiff of tobacco smoke or a passing feline — is harrowing for any victim, but most lethal to children without access to the medications that help them breathe normally again.

    The only care these youngsters may get is in an emergency room, which does little to prevent future attacks and further strains an overwhelmed health system. Often ignored as unwanted burdens, young and homeless asthma patients have the added misfortune of being the canaries in the coal mine for this illness. Helping them breathe should be a priority on every urban agenda.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    There should not be any homeless children.

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    Default Re: Plan to Address Homelessness

    What this is most likely to mean in concrete terms is a shift in budget priorities away from a roughly $580 million-a-year shelter system.

    "Since 1999, this agency's budget has grown by $244 million," Ms. Gibbs said. "We need to look at those considerable resources and see how we could spend them more wisely, toward supportive housing, rental assistance and permanent community."
    I was wondering what was motivating the Bush admin. :wink:

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    March 23, 2004

    City Calls Its System of Aiding Homeless Too Broken to Fix

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN


    A waiting room at the ever-busy Emergency Assistance Unit, in the Bronx, where the city assesses families' housing needs. The Legal Aid Society has blacked out the faces of those pictured to protect their identities.

    The Emergency Assistance Unit, the city's tarnished golden door for families declaring themselves homeless, is most famously overcrowded in August, when children are out of school. But on a tepid February evening, when a reporter was allowed a rare visit inside, the Bronx building was literally spilling people.

    By 6:30 p.m., 300 families had logged in and were waiting to be bused to a bed for the night. Inside, beyond the metal detectors, a warren of drab, trash-dotted waiting rooms were awash in children who wailed and toddled and squirmed.

    Adults lined the hallways looking vacant and tired. They sat on the transparent trash bags issued at the door — now filled with baby clothes, GameBoys and the occasional tattered Bible — or stretched out on the gray plastic benches, waking to brush off the occasional water bug.

    Outside, 100 more were waiting to check in. It would be 2 a.m. before all the buses were on their way and the Bronx office emptied for a bit.

    Because it is where poverty's growing demands collide with the supply of subsidized housing, the unit is overwhelmed as it struggles between helping families humanely and weeding out those whose need may not be dire.

    Yet almost no one is happy with the balance achieved so far, and a battle is now shaping up that will affect the future existence of the notorious city office and the manner in which New York deals with its homeless population. City officials are frank about their desire: to shut down the unit for good.

    "No one coming through here could believe this works as it is now," said Linda I. Gibbs, the commissioner of Homeless Services, said on a recent tour of the building. For 10 years, she said, the city has poured money into making the unit more physically palatable — most recently, the office has been covered with graffiti-resistant wallboards and new fluorescent lighting — and operationally efficient. And though the improvements are real — the cafeteria, for example, is sparkling these days — she considers them ultimately marginal in the face of the ever-increasing demand on the building.

    Ms. Gibbs said it no longer made any sense to her to spend ever more money and staff time on improving the office, which was opened by the Koch administration in the 1980's after the city was sued and ordered by a state court to provide shelter on demand to homeless families. She would like instead to create an entirely new system in which families would apply for homeless assistance through local community groups receiving city financing that could offer them less drastic alternatives like rental assistance or family counseling. A space in a homeless shelter would be considered a last resort, provided through a new, smaller city office.

    To advocates for the homeless, Ms. Gibbs's vision sounds like treason. "Any effort to eliminate the E.A.U. is an end-run effort to eliminate the entry point to safety-net shelter," said Steve Banks, the Legal Aid lawyer who has been running class action litigation against the city for two decades. "We have seen in the past what happens when the government does that: families end up sleeping on the subway."

    Mr. Banks's vision is almost the opposite of Ms. Gibbs's. He argues that the flood at the office will stop only when the government builds large amounts of low-cost housing or provides much greater rental assistance. Until then, he would like to see a new, larger complex, where families would not only enter the city's system but where they could also be housed for the night, similar to the process that exists for single men. Such an office should have enough workers to process families in hours, not days, he said, and to provide immediate aid for getting into housing like long-term shelters.

    Ms. Gibbs agrees with the goals, but says Mr. Banks's approach ignores the larger problem.

    "As long as you continue to focus on how to fix the process for the 100 new families that show up every day, all you are going to do is put more Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids," she said. "A different solution is to move the focus of the system away from processing people into homelessness."

    In January last year, the city and Legal Aid agreed to a two-year restraint on 20 years of litigation to let an independent panel of experts try to resolve some of the most contentious issues on family homelessness. The panel is now preparing a report on what to do with the Emergency Assistance Unit that will have significant weight with the court, and may be the blueprint for its future.

    Down in the bowels of the unit, in the cubicles where investigations that decide family eligibility take place, a 17-year-old with cherry red lipstick and a matching stud beneath her lower lip might be Exhibit A in both sides' argument for change.

    The teenager, whose name was withheld under city privacy rules, wants the city to recognize her and her 9-month-old baby as homeless. She has applied five times at the unit and been rejected each time. Each time, after the 10-day grace period during which the city provides shelter while it investigates her need, she has been removed from shelter and told to return to her mother's apartment.

    But, as she explains to the city investigator, a quiet woman with a Caribbean accent, she cannot return to her mother's apartment because her mother does not get along with her child's father and has kicked her out. Even if she stayed, there would be six people living in the two-bedroom Bronx apartment, and her mother is in Ecuador anyway until April and has locked the place up.

    The city investigator does not look convinced. She points out that the teenager has already had a fair hearing from the state, which agreed with the city. Her mother told investigators herself that her daughter and the boyfriend had in fact been living there before entering shelter. Unless the teenager presents new evidence that she is homeless, the investigator says, the city cannot put her into long-term shelter and into the coveted queue for permanent subsidized housing.

    "There is no new evidence," the teenager screams in exasperation. "The apartment is locked. Go look."

    The investigator promises to try to reach the mother in Ecuador, but until then, the teenager will just have to start the process all over again.

    The city argues that the teenager is an example of just the kind of case that should never have made it to the unit.

    In a rational system, Ms. Gibbs said, the first day she walked out of her apartment she would have met with a community group that might have provided mediation between the mother and boyfriend to arrange a temporary peace and then placed the her on a waiting list for rental assistance or some other subsidized housing without her having to enter a shelter.

    To marshal its case for essentially eliminating the office, the city has amassed a wealth of data that show that there are too many cases similar to this one in which people use the Bronx office as a first line of action to get housing instead of the last resort.

    For example, none of the families with children who come to the unit are coming from the street, according to city statistics, and more than half are staying with other family members. Roughly 40 percent of all those coming to the until are women 25 and under, many of whom are moving away from their mothers. The city estimates that only 25 percent of those who come even visit the office in the unit where options are offered to avoid homelessness, such as rental assistance or legal representation to prevent eviction.

    Perhaps most maddening of all for the city, at any one point 50 percent of those in the unit have previously been considered and deemed to have housing, usually an apartment of a mother or grandmother. Nonetheless, they continue to return to the unit to restart the process time after time.

    The expense to the city is enormous, but Ms. Gibbs said she was more concerned that the returning families slow things down for families truly needing help. The average time to be processed by the unit is currently two and a half days, although the city says that the preliminary application process could be completed in three hours.

    To the Mr. Banks and the Coalition for the Homeless, which has also sued the city on behalf of the homeless, those numbers do not begin to tell the complications of the individual cases. The city's vision, they say, is all promise and no reality.

    Advocacy groups also say that they have numbers based on city records they obtained through court order showing that the majority of those who make it to the shelter's door are really on their last legs. From 1999 to 2003, they say, 77 percent of those who completed the investigations process were found to meet city standards of homelessness. (The city notes that thousands more never completed the process.)

    Of those nearly 26,000 eligible families, some 10,500 had to apply more than once before being accepted, Mr. Banks said. Of the roughly 8,000 who were found ineligible, only 860 reapplied to the system more than four times. "In other words," Mr. Banks said, "the city's own data show it is a minuscule fraction of families who might be abusing the system."

    The groups would like to see some changes to the system. For starters, they would like the city to spend less energy on finding fraud and more on helping people in crisis, with, for example, the addition of social service workers at the unit who help families obtain documents to prove their homelessness. If the city offered some kind of on-site living quarters, advocates said, families would not need to be bused to sleeping quarters and children might not miss school for days at a time as they are shuffled before being placed in the 10-day interim shelter. Mr. Banks said he also wanted the independent advisory panel to improve eligibility investigations, which he said were too prosecutorial.

    Gail Nayowith, the executive director of the Citizens' Committee for Children, who sits on the independent panel, said it had not reached a conclusion on what should be done, but said she understood that "the stakes are enormous."

    She hinted that she would recommend that the city spend the resources to pursue both the systemic changes it wants and the process changes the advocates are demanding. "The big vision and the smaller vision at the E.A.U. will happen at the same time," she said, leaving open the question of where the money would come from.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    April 16, 2004

    Survey Shows Slight Decline in Homeless on the Streets

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN

    The number of homeless men and women sleeping on the streets of Manhattan has declined slightly even as the population in city shelters has surged, city officials said yesterday.

    That finding was among the results of the second annual census of street homelessness, conducted by the Department of Homeless Services and released yesterday.

    The officials also said the city would decentralize its shelter intake system - expanding it from one main office in Manhattan to three offices, two of them outside Manhattan.

    In February, volunteers combed sections of the city to count people sleeping on the streets and in subway cars and doorways. From that count, the city extrapolated that there was a total of 2,694 homeless people on the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. (Queens and the Bronx will be added next year.)

    In Manhattan, the only borough surveyed in 2003, the city said it found 1,472 homeless people, a slight decline from the 1,560 counted last year. Officials said the total number of adults in shelters citywide rose by more than 600, to nearly 9,000 people, in the same period.

    Patrick Markee, a spokesman for the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group that has criticized the city's counting method, said: "It doesn't even pass the laugh test. You could talk to any New Yorker about the number of homeless they see on the street and know it is not true."

    But Linda I. Gibbs, the city's commissioner of homeless services, said the count provided information that should help her agency meet people's needs. As a result of the data, she said, her office will open intake offices closer to outlying populations.

    Ms. Gibbs said she would meet with groups that reach out to the homeless and with community planners to find locations for outreach programs in the next year, and that two would be outside of Manhattan. She said she hoped to close the East 30th Street shelter, which processes the intake of all single homeless men, within two years. The city first announced its desire to close the 30th Street shelter in 1999 under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, but has been slow to build alternatives. Ms. Gibbs said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg would request $7 million in his new budget to finance the new centers.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    I don't know if I can trust this census. There are plenty of homeless who sleep in the subway tunnels and others in utility tunnels; some of the latter are so old that they aren't even on contemporary city maps. I doubt that the census takers would be instructed to go to such places.

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    June 16, 2004

    New York Seeks to Make Homeless Shelters Less Inviting

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN

    Seeking to reduce the number of homeless people in municipal shelters, New York City is considering eliminating longstanding practices that may encourage people to enter the shelter system. It may also ask single people and families to pay part of the costs of a shelter if they are financially able.

    A draft of the Bloomberg administration's new homeless plan suggests an end to the priority given to homeless families over other poor people seeking to receive a federal subsidized housing voucher. In addition, the city is contemplating screening homeless single people before giving them a long-term bed to see if they have other options, like living with relatives. Currently, the screening process is used only for families.

    But the plan is not limited to restrictive measures. As fewer people are drawn into the homeless system, the city plans to redirect money toward preventive measures such as legal services for families facing eviction from their homes and one-time rental assistance.

    Also under consideration is the construction of new housing units that come with intensive, continuing social services, known as "supportive housing," although no specific numbers are discussed in the draft.

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is scheduled to reveal the city's 10-year plan for coping with its surging homeless population next Tuesday, and city officials said the final plan could differ significantly from the draft. The New York Times obtained a copy of the draft report from a homeless advocacy group that disagrees with the proposals and that demanded anonymity.

    In many ways, the draft reveals a philosophical U-turn for the city, which over several administrations became oriented toward providing emergency shelter to homeless people, rather than considering ways to prevent homelessness.

    "Because we have such a large and institutional shelter system, it has become the answer to every housing problem," said Linda I. Gibbs, the city's commissioner of Homeless Services, who would not comment on any of the specifics of the draft until it was released. "Which is why we have to put a lot more effort into preventing homelessness by looking broadly at what draws people into shelter in the first place."

    But some advocates for the homeless argue that while its rhetoric is grand, the plan is far too vague, particularly when it comes to affordable housing and supportive housing.

    "It feels a little bit like the emperor has no clothes," said Maureen Friar, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, who sat on a coordinating committee that advised the city on the report. "The plan has a lot of words without any goals we can measure to see what we've done next year. How can we measure results? It is disappointing that it is this general and out of sync from how the mayor has approached work in education and other areas he cares about."

    Ms. Gibbs said that the city would shortly announce detailed goals and timetables for every aspect of the plan, including adding housing units.

    Others who work on the issue praised the city for trying to reduce homelessness. Rosanne Haggerty, president of Common Ground, which is among the largest developers of supportive housing in the city, noted that it cost up to $33,000 a year to keep a family in emergency shelter and said that money should be shifted to new housing. "This plan zeroes in on moving resources away from emergency spending to the real solutions, which are prevention and housing," she said.

    Eric Brettschneider, executive director of the Agenda for Children Tomorrow, a city-funded social services group, said the significance of the report was in its effort to prevent homelessness in the communities where the families come from.

    "Until now, we separated crucial issues like housing and homelessness," he said. "This is in keeping with the idea of helping families in the context of communities."

    Under a local law, the city must provide shelter on demand, and the average length of time that families stay in emergency housing has swelled to nearly a year. The number of families in shelters doubled to a record 9,000 from 1998 to 2003, and the number of single people in shelters, now at 37,000, has not been as high since 1990.

    To deal with the problem, the city announced in November that it was working on a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. It then called on members of the city's homeless organizations, business leaders, and prominent citizens like former Mayor David Dinkins to participate in the planning process, which expanded to include every aspect of the system. The effort parallels a national push by the Bush administration to reduce chronic homelessness for single people.

    The draft obtained by the Times is the last copy made available to the panel members who contributed to it, but it does not include changes that may have been made to the plan as a result of their critiques. And the critiques, at least on one narrow issue, have been fierce.

    At a City Hall meeting with Bloomberg administration officials last month, several members of the groups that contributed to the report complained that it did not contain any specific numbers for new supportive housing, unlike most similar 10-year plans by other cities.

    "There is a consensus, from the Bush administration to the advocates to the front-line providers, that the solution to this problem is supportive housing," said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. "So to produce this report without the commitment of a single new unit of supportive housing is shocking." She said the city needed to build 16,000 units in the next decade.

    In the past two decades, the city, with help from the federal and state governments, has built 21,000 units of supportive housing. The Bloomberg administration also produced a housing plan in 2002 that called for 2,300 new units of supportive housing.

    The plan does not specify what the city might charge families for use of a shelter. In some cases, it already gets matching state and federal payments for families on welfare.

    The draft plan also contains recommendations for the city's housing court to reduce evictions and a proposal to expand social services to the homeless after they move into permanent housing so that they do not become homeless again.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  13. #13

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    NY1
    June 23, 2004

    Mayor Unveils New Policy For Sheltering Homeless



    Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a new homeless policy Wednesday that shifts the focus from building new shelters do keeping people out of them in the first place.

    With homelessness at record highs, the ambitious plan aims to reduce the number of people living in shelters and on the streets of New York City by two-thirds within five years. The city will try to prevent homelessness by providing such services as one-time rent assistance and legal counsel for families facing eviction.

    “Because we relied on shelter as our only homeless policy tool, our shelter population continues to grow,” the mayor said. “As a result, a system designed to provide an emergency safety net has instead become semi-permanent housing for far too many New Yorkers.”

    The city will also try to speed up the process of moving people out of shelters and into permanent housing. The mayor called for construction of 12,000 units of supportive housing for homeless people with mental illnesses or drug problems.

    The shelter system’s intake center, the Emergency Assistance Unit, will be redesigned, and anybody seeking temporary shelter will face stricter requirements. Single people will first be asked if they have other options, like living with relatives. Homeless people may also be asked to pay part of the shelter costs if they can afford it.

    The Bloomberg administration also plans to create a citywide homeless database with information on each person's drug, criminal, health and housing histories.

    Homeless advocates support much of plan, but some are worried that the new eligibility requirements could push people onto street.

    “We are very much concerned with the upfront requirements, these eligibility reviews,” said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Just to be very specific, if somebody is chronically homeless, they are probably mentally ill. So, to require that person, for instance, to complete a two-year housing history, you might as well be asking them to do trigonometry. It’s very impossible.”

    The mayor said the new policy would shift funds in the current budget and would not require more money.

    The mayor was originally expected to unveil a 10-year plan, but he cut the length in half to end in 2009, the year he would be leaving office is he wins re-election next year.

    Copyright © 2004 NY1 News

  14. #14

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    June 24, 2004

    Mayor Urges Major Overhaul of City Shelters

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious plan yesterday to reduce the number of homeless people in the city by two-thirds over the next five years, proposing to build thousands of units of new housing and put new restrictions on city shelters.

    In an unexpected move, the mayor committed the city to creating 12,000 new units of housing over the next decade, and supporting the units with social services for the homeless. He also made it clear that to do that, he needed to shift dollars away from the city's vast and expensive shelter system.

    To make that system less inviting, the city will begin asking single homeless men if they can use other options besides the city's shelters, and will eliminate the higher priority given homeless families over other poor families in applying for federal housing subsidies.

    In another significant change, the mayor said the city planned to prevent families from reapplying for shelter soon after they have been deemed ineligible. A large number of families return repeatedly now to the city's Emergency Assistance Unit, the office that admits homeless families trying to enter shelter, despite being told that they are not eligible for shelter.

    Yesterday's announcement coincided with the release of a report by a court-appointed panel on the city's Emergency Assistance Unit, making several significant recommendations for the future of the office, including replacing the Bronx building it uses.

    "We have to recognize the cost and failing of our own best intentions," Mayor Bloomberg said, speaking at a news conference about an emergency shelter system that has swelled by 15,000 people in the last four years alone. "Our own policies needlessly encourage entry and prolong dependence on shelters. That has created a growing burden on our city budget."

    While the city has been very publicly working on reducing its blooming homeless population since November, the force of the mayor's determination to enact this plan took many by surprise, including Linda I. Gibbs, the commissioner of homeless services, who said she was working on a 10-year timetable until last week when the mayor demanded five-year goals instead.

    The city's many vocal homeless advocacy groups found the mayor's plan exceeded their expectations, and seemed to be delighted by his commitment to 12,000 units of new housing supported with social services - known as "supportive housing."

    "It is a landmark commitment by the mayor and a challenge to the governor to meet the city halfway," said Joe Weisbord, staff director of Housing First!, a coalition of civic, business and labor groups.

    Still, there were many questions left unanswered after the news conference, including how the mayor will pay for all the changes. He declined to say how much the city would contribute toward the 12,000 new units, and aides said the city would have to find assistance from the state and from private sources.

    Carol Abrams, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said no details would be released on the city's financial commitment for 60 days. Ms. Gibbs said the city would release specific timetables and goals within the next 60 days.

    The city is hoping to model this agreement at least in part on previous supportive housing agreements, particularly for mentally ill and drug addicted homeless people, signed under Mayors David N. Dinkins and Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1990 and 1999. Under those plans, the state paid for the social services and half the cost of construction. The state and federal governments are distinctly less generous with dollars these days, however.

    The mayor said he would pay for financing the other parts of the plan by reducing the population in shelters. The city estimates that it costs roughly $25,000 a year to house a homeless family, so reducing those numbers could save a substantial amount. Since the shelters now hold a record 38,000 people and the high season for homelessness is beginning, several homeless advocacy groups said the mayor's financing strategy was risky.

    Conceding that his group was thrilled with the mayor's "shift from just emergency solutions to prevention," Arnold S. Cohen, president and chief executive of the Partnership for the Homeless, said: "We are concerned the mayor is not investing in any new initiatives. The source of the money is the already existing system."

    Although the mayor's announcement largely overshadowed the separate report on the Emergency Assistance Unit by the court-appointed panel, many of its recommendations were significant as well. Conditions at the much-reviled office in the Bronx have been the subject of nearly two decades of lawsuits, and the panel was established to find a solution that would settle the litigation.

    In general, the panel's suggestions, which included the construction of an entirely new building that would be larger, cleaner and safer than the current one, were praised by both sides.

    Dovetailing with the mayor's focus on prevention, the panel called for the creation of new city offices that could deal with housing emergencies at all hours but would not be used for gaining access to shelter. For those who choose to apply for shelter at the Emergency Assistance Unit, the panel called for an application process that lasts hours instead of days and for an eligibility review process based on clear, published rules.

    The panel also called for hiring new employees to help families re-enter their neighborhoods if they have been found ineligible for shelter. Now families can apply for shelter as many times as they like even after the city inspectors have found that they have a home to return to, a process the panel says "clogs" the unit for more needy families.

    This last suggestion, although vague, did create some concern for Steve Banks, lead counsel in the lawsuits against the city on the emergency units.

    "For years, we've been saying more housing, more prevention and lawful eligibility provisions are required," Mr. Banks said, noting that the panel appeared to agree. "However, I'd certainly be concerned if the recommendation to develop a process of meeting the needs of ineligible families results in children and families ending up in the streets like they do in other cities. In that case, we'd have to go back to court."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  15. #15
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    Mayor unveils homeless plan


    June 22, 2004

    The mayor unveiled a five-year plan aimed at cutting the size of the city’s homeless population by two-thirds.

    The mayor says the plan focuses on prevention rather than on maintaining the city’s shelter system, which currently houses some 38,000 people.The components of the scheme include a centralized database that will help the city track the homeless population; stricter eligibility review procedures; increased supportive housing, to 12,000 units over the next five years versus a proposed 5,000; landlord-tenant mediation efforts to prevent eviction; initiatives in the prisons, public hospitals, foster care system, and shelters to help people being discharged make transitions to permanent housing; and the creation of a new building that will serve as a central intake center.

    Mr. Bloomberg said the eviction prevention work will be funded by $12 million in the coming fiscal year, but that in future years, rental assistance and interventions will be funded by money saved on the shelter system.


    Copyright 2004, Crain Communications, Inc

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