The first ad features a real estate agent listing the selling points of a piece of sidewalk to a street sleeper (“exposed brick … and talk about outdoor space!”). The second features a saleswoman pitching a refrigerator box to a homeless dude. They’re funny, the two 30 second spots unveiled Thursday by the Coalition for the Homeless, and aimed at Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And they also come 71 days after the election that gave the mayor a stunning mandate and lame-duck status.
“The mayor got a pass in the 2005 campaign on this issue,” Coalition executive director Mary Brosnahan Sullivan says in the statement announcing the ads. One could argue that social advocacy groups were the ones who gave him that pass, perhaps because they didn’t think they’d fare any better under Fernando Ferrer—who, despite his emphasis on poverty, did not utter the word “homeless” much at all.
In the event, the campaign ended, the mayor won, and more time ticked off toward Bloomberg’s self-imposed deadline to cut street homelessness and shelter populations by two-thirds by mid-2009.
Now the Coalition is airing ads on channel 4 and cable stations, buying space at subway stops and at community papers, and dispatching volunteers to leaflet. The effort, Brosnahan Sullivan says, is meant to “shake off some of the self-congratulatory rhetoric coming from City Hall on this issue.”
Its precise target is Housing Stability Plus, a linchpin of the Bloomberg homelessness initiative. HSP is a subsidy that allows homeless families and single adults to rent their own apartment, and is an attempt to get people out of the shelters and into an environment where things are safe and stable. The value of the subsidy tapers each year—a feature intended to encourage independence. But the practical effect is a 20 percent rent hike, five years in a row, for very poor people. The Coalition wants that aspect of the program suspended. It also wants the city to open HSP to families who don’t have active Public Assistance cases.
The city’s daily census of the homeless population for January 18 was 31,645— slightly larger than Elmira and bigger than about 1,000 of New York State’s cities, towns, and villages.