Homelessness in New York City: The Legacy of Mayor Bloomberg

By Steven P. Rodriguez


A few months ago, Ian Frazier of the New Yorker published an excellent 10 page article on the legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policy on homelessness in the city. The article makes for an excellent read and presents some very disturbing statistics about the dire situation in New York:

1) More than 1 in 5 New York City residents live below the poverty line

2) Nearly 1 in 5 experiences times of “food insecurity” in the course of a year

3) During Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, the number of homeless families went up by 73%

The general  thrust of the article centers around the terrible condition of many homeless shelters in the NYC and the lack of available beds. Frazier notes that Bloomberg entered office wanting to change the attitude of homeless people and encourage them to work and take responsibility in exchange for temporary housing.  An especially powerful section of the article appears below:

Then, there’s the other philosophy, which says that it’s not their fault. What the homeless need, this other philosophy says, is a stable place to live, not a system telling them what to do. Once stable housing is achieved, changes in behavior, if necessary, can follow. The problem is not the poor’s lack of character but a lack of places in the city where they can afford to live and of jobs that pay a decent wage. The problem is not inside but outside. No change in personal behavior is going to make rents cheaper. According to this philosophy, the path center’s relentless search for relatives with whom applicants for shelter can double up or triple up just crams more bodies into the too short supply of moderate- and low-income housing in the city, and sends people into unhealthy or even dangerous situations.

Here we see a common stereotype that many people promote unintentionally ; that is, many believe that homelessness is necessarily caused by weak character or pure laziness. Indeed, this may be true in some cases, but the larger problem is the social and economic inequality. Part of The Wall’s mission is to change the way that may people view homelessness. We must acknowledge the causes of homelessness that are structural in nature, and thus beyond the control of the homeless community.

Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor was not without its success in helping the homeless. Frazier notes that in his first term, Mayor Bloomberg was able to improve the decrepit E.A.U Center, the traditional starting place for those seeking shelter, and replaced it with a much more bright and functional PATH center. Additionally, Bloomberg launched a housing subsidy program called Advantage, which helped thousands of families live on their own. Yet, the funding for the program was eventually cut and the families who had gained some sense of independence once again returned to the shelters.

The future of New York City’s homelessness public policy seems bright with the recent election of  Bill de Blasio as mayor. De Blasio has pledged to radically changed many of Bloomberg’s initiatives in favor of more effective policies. It seems that we must wait to find out how successful the new mayor will be.