NYC Homeless Population Rises Sharply, Forces Mayor to Open 9 New Shelters

New York Cities homeless population has jumped sharply over the last year, causing the Bloomberg administration to open nine new homeless shelters in just two months. Officials attributes part of the increase to the ending of the city’s main rent-subsidy program for homeless families. The new shelters — five in the Bronx, two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn — have provoked criticism from local officials who say they were blindsided by the decisions to open them.

The city recorded 43,731 homeless people (25,475 adults and 18,256 children) in the shelter system in August, up 18 percent from the 37,143 (21,807 adults and 15,336 children) a year ago, officials said. “We do have to move quickly, and we have to always make sure that we have enough capacity,” commissioner of homeless services, Seth Diamond said. “The one thing we cannot do is have families come in and not have a place for them.”

By law, the city is obligated to supply shelter to people without, though there are limits to how long they can stay in certain shelters. The current shelter census is the highest ever but does not represent the total homeless population because some people avoid shelters.

Local officials and neighborhood leaders acknowledged the need for the shelters, but said the Bloomberg administration had moved too abruptly. Several elected officials sponsored a protest in front of the 95th Street buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that were turned into shelters. The buildings are privately owned, and the city is paying roughly $3,300 a unit a month, with two or three people living in each unit.

Manhattan’s borough president, Scott M. Stringer, said, “This is no way to meet the needs of vulnerable citizens in this city by simply packing in hundreds and hundreds of people in the dead of night without a long-range plan.”

Asked what the alternative should be, Mr. Stringer, a Democrat who is likely to run for mayor next year, said, “Well, that is the conundrum.” He added: “You still need to come to various constituencies to support a long-term policy to meet a need that is expanding. It’s easy to throw 400 people in a community without doing your homework.”

Other community leaders said they feared that there might be inadequate social services for the needy. Without proper supervision shelters can become a hotbed of drugs and crime.

“It isn’t because we don’t want them in our backyard,” said Mark N. Diller, who is chairman of Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side. “It’s that we don’t want a failure in our backyard.”

There are 228 homeless shelters in the city, up from 211 in June 2010.

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