Are The Homeless, Like Everyone Else, Moving to Brooklyn?


The City’s Independent Budget Office recently released a report that basically called Mayor Bloomberg’s homeless plan a failure. Bloomberg had vowed to cut the number of people living on the City’s streets and shelters by two-thirds before he left office in 2009. In fact, the IBO suggested that the number of homeless was on the rise — as Runnin’ Scared had done back in June, citing a Coalition for the Homeless report that called the past decade “the worst for New York City homelessness since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

Bloomberg, as usual, seemed unconcerned. He suggested there might be more people in city shelters now because the shelters are nicer than they were.

Even out in the boroughs, people are starting to notice the uptick. At Sheepshead Bites, Brooklyn blogger Ray Johnson was shocked to see a sleeping bum with a cart in this famously family-friendly neighborhood. “No one in our group remembered seeing area sidewalk homesteaders in the recent past,” he said. Johnson also heard from a local friend who said he’d seen a few vagrants around and they were starting to get aggressive.

Are there more homeless people in the boroughs now? That’s certainly where Giuliani built the new shelters to which he sent many of them in the 1990s. In a way, maybe bums pioneered the outgrown patterns adopted later by other New Yorkers: when Manhattan got too tough for them, they went across the river.

The homeless seem more natural in Manhattan, with its ample wealth and waste, than in such homey precincts. But it we don’t see them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here’s a very interesting note from a 2007 academic report on the subject:

The report indicated that two-thirds of homeless people in the outer boroughs and upwards of half in Manhattan were living in locations that were defined as outside the field of observation (i.e., not part of the frame of “visible on the street”) and therefore cannot be estimated by statistical adjustments.

It may be that outer-borough homelessness only comes to our attention when, rising above a certain level or pushed far enough to become aggressive, they enter our “field of observation.”

That takes some doing, but it can be done. As Jeremiah of Vanishing New York likes to point out, “Yunnies are masters at being blissfully unaware of their surroundings, happy to squat in shitty locales.” But even we have our limits, and when a proposed homeless shelter reminds us that there are bums among us in the first place, we get concerned. The way things are going, though, we’ll either have to put more effort into ignoring the homeless, or less effort into ignoring the lousy job our government is doing about it.