New York City’s homeless shelter population broke its all-time record this past weekend, and has continued to rise this week, as 59,734 people spent Monday night in a shelter. That figure includes 23,576 children, as over 140 new families checked into shelters on Monday.
On Saturday, the shelter population surged past the previous high of 59,068, which was recorded back in December 2014.
“The number of families in the system do tend to spike in the summer, especially August and September, as families who are struggling with housing tend to hang onto it until the end of their children’s school years,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, in an interview with the Voice. “We’re living through an affordability crisis right now. At the moment, the vacancy rate for the cheapest apartment in the city is literally zero.”
Officials at the Department of Homeless Shelters have pointed to limited housing options and opposition to shelter placements as part of the reason for the rise in the shelter population. They also believe that this was a problem the current administration inherited, not one it created.
“The shelter population more than doubled in the two decades before this administration took over. This mayor’s work has helped to dramatically slow the pace of growth, and we will continue to implement new, aggressive citywide solutions to this citywide problem,” Lauren Gray, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services, said in a statement.
While City Hall scrambles to keep up with the record numbers (often by turning hotels into temporary shelters), the city and state have tried to create more permanent solutions by providing more supportive units, housing that would take families and individuals out of shelters. While the city has already begun providing money to open scatter-site units, the governor has been waffling on its announcement that the state would to spend $2 billion to help create more than 100,000 units of affordable and supportive housing.
“We hope that the number of families in the system will level off soon, but we’ve really seen a spike in the amount of single individuals in shelters as the city runs out of supportive housing,” said Routhier. Homelessness advocates have been calling on Cuomo to follow through with his promise to build the 100,000 units, which he refused to put in the state budget, even after announcing the program.
After holding back a promised Memorandum of Understanding on the spending for months, Cuomo finally sent it to the state legislature for approval last week. Republican leaders have been less than receptive about the proposal, however, and the units are no closer to being built than they were last January, when Cuomo announced the program.