News & Politics

Spat Over Homeless Stats


The number of street homeless dropped 13 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the results from Department of Homeless Services’ annual survey, which were released Monday. Acting DHS commissioner Fran Winter called the reported reduction “extremely encouraging” and demonstrative of “real progress” toward “Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of reducing homelessness by two-thirds by 2009.” Coalition for the Homeless director Mary Brosnahan Sullivan said the results were “deeply flawed” because many homeless people sleep “in places that cannot be counted by volunteers on one extraordinarily cold evening.”

The city and homeless advocates were never going to agree on how to interpret the results of the census, conducted by hundreds of volunteers from midnight to 4 a.m. on February 27. On the night of the count, Commissioner Winter took pains to describe it as a “snapshot in time,” meant only to capture who was truly desperate in the dead of the night, at the end of the month, on any street at the moment a volunteer passed by. But despite the fact that volunteers were told to avoid private buildings and sketchy alleyways, and could pass along each street only once, the results are the yardstick against which Bloomberg’s homeless plans will be measured.

The 13 percent decrease to 3,843 homeless people is a drop of 552 people from the 2005 count. This year the volunteer counters found more of the decoys sent out to test whether the census teams are doing their jobs.

The DHS numbers suggest some dramatic changes in where the homeless are. The numbers in the Bronx and Staten Island are about the same from 2005 to 2006. But the number of homeless in Brooklyn (+31 percent) and on the subways (+44 percent) swelled, while the number in Manhattan (-43 percent) dropped substantially. The reported decrease in Queens was 80 percent, leaving the city’s biggest borough with only 66 street homeless people in 2006— or one per 1.65 square miles.

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