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PR- 250-06
July 17, 2006


Mayor Provides Progress Report on Homelessness in New York City

In a keynote address to the National Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Conference in Washington, DC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced two new efforts to build on New York City's historic efforts to solve homelessness. New York City will reinvest $10 million that the City has saved because of lower shelter populations to give families who have left shelters, but who are at high-risk of returning to shelter, flexible services to promote housing stability. Mayor Bloomberg also announced that the Department of Homeless Services has identified 73 locations - under highways, next to train trestles and on City streets - where some 350 homeless men and women in groups of four or five have set up makeshift shelters. As an extension of its street outreach work, the Department of Homeless Services will humanely, respectfully, but firmly work to get these men and women to enter supportive housing, enroll in treatment programs, or go into shelters.

Mayor Bloomberg also detailed the Administration's progress in reducing homelessness by two-thirds by 2009, noting that there are almost 20 percent fewer individuals and 30 percent fewer children in shelters since 2003. In addition, the City's recent street count found 13 percent fewer individuals living on the streets and in other public spaces this year compared to last.

The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's address as prepared for delivery to the National Alliance to End Chronic Homelessness Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

"Thank you, Nan, for those kind words. If they weren't all true, I'd be blushing!

"Truth is certainly highly prized here in Washington DC. In fact, it's so precious that both political parties rarely use it, especially when they're talking about each other.

"And in the spirit of truthfulness, let me say that there is truly no one who does more, day in and day out, to end homelessness in America than you do, Nan. You are an inspiration to us all.

"Now, there are those who say that ending homelessness is just a dream. And they're right; it's part of the American dream. It embodies the belief deeply engrained in our national character that, working together, we can end needless suffering, enlarge the realm of human dignity, and maximize the potential of every individual to be a contributing member of society.

"Looking around this room, I see practical dreamers, visionary realists. I see hundreds of men and women from every corner of this nation who have devoted your lives to hastening the day when all of our fellow Americans can have what so many simply take for granted: The stability, security, and precious sense of personal worth that comes from waking each morning in our own beds, in our own homes.

"I share that goal with you-because I believe that until that day arrives, we will not be the nation we want to be, or that we can be.

"And I believe something else too-something fundamental to making our shared dream a reality.

"The status quo, the familiar pattern, the shopworn methods of the past: These must be abandoned. Because if we are to finally end homelessness in America, we must recognize that "the tried and true" has actually far too often been the tried and failed.

"We must honestly face up to the shortcomings of our own noblest intentions, and show the courage to think anew and act anew.

"To rid our society of homelessness, we must first liberate ourselves from the chains of conventional wisdom, from the fetters of political correctness, from the tyranny of the advocates and their unwillingness to admit that we're ever making progress, and from the opportunism of those who employ divisive and politically charged rhetoric to score easy points. We've got to be willing to do what's right, and let the chips fall where they may.

"Our experience in New York City has clearly and repeatedly demonstrated just how wrong the conventional wisdom often is.

"We came into office four and a half years ago facing an unprecedented challenge: To put our city back on its feet after the bloodiest attack that America has ever endured.

"Many voices around us murmured that perhaps this time, New York really was down for the count.

"We believed just the opposite. We saw New York's best days still ahead. But to get there, we recognized that we would have to defy the conventional wisdom that our greatest problems-continuing to reduce crime, fostering new economic growth, improving our schools, and creating affordable housing-were simply beyond solution.

"On each of those counts, we've developed innovative solutions and proved the conventional wisdom to be dead wrong.

"Take crime: After 9/11, New York City faced its worst fiscal crisis since the 1970s. Through attrition, we had to reduce the police force by 3,000 officers, even as we also assigned 1,000 officers to major new counter-terrorism and intelligence-gathering duties.

"The conventional wisdom was that crime would rise. Yet by strategically targeting resources, and with new enforcement strategies, we've driven crime down to historically low levels.

"Today, crime in New York City is 22% lower than it was five years ago. Our murder rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1960s. And New York City is the undisputed safest big city in America.

"In the economic realm, the conventional wisdom was that New York's fortunes were utterly tied to the ups and downs of Wall Street, and that there was little City government could do independently to spur economic growth.

"But by aggressively and imaginatively using rezoning, strategic capital investments, and all the other the tools at our disposal, we've created jobs in growth industries like film production and bio-science, and again proved the conventional wisdom wrong.

"The result: Today our economy is strong. More New Yorkers are working than at any time in history. And at 5%, our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1988.

"The conventional wisdom also said that there really wasn't much we could do to improve our failing public schools. But by instituting accountability and standards by focusing on line managers in individual schools (called principals), by increasing teacher salaries 33% over the last five years, and by running the system for the students and not the employees, we've lifted student graduation rates and test scores, and begun to close the racial achievement gap in our classrooms.

"And in the housing arena, we've turned on its head the conventional wisdom that said that a hot housing market inevitably spells trouble for working- and middle-class families.

"Even as housing values have soared, we've launched the biggest municipal affordable housing initiative in the nation's history. It includes an aggressive inclusionary zoning program, which taps market forces by permitting developers to build more housing in rezoned areas-but only if they keep a portion of that housing affordable. That will help create thousands of new affordable apartments throughout our city, and preserve the neighborhood diversity that defines what's best about our city.

"When we came into office, we also found the City's homelessness policies and practices deeply in thrall to a self-defeating conventional wisdom.

"Its tenets were that street homelessness was essentially a permanent fact of urban life, and that homeless families were deeply troubled and needed long-term counseling and support before they were 'housing ready.'

"As a result, the city's over-riding response to homelessness had been creating emergency shelters. In the process, we came to develop and operate the largest shelter system in the nation. Over the past ten years alone, nearly 400,000 homeless men, women, and children have passed through them.

"That's a tremendous testament to our city's compassion. But it's also damning proof of the conventional wisdom's shortcomings.

"Because in the process, we had all lost sight of a basic truth: That while everyone has a right to emergency shelter, that doesn't always make emergency shelter right for everyone. It should be a last resort.

"It took a major crisis to finally force fundamental change.

"Four years ago, during the summer of 2002, our homelessness system was being flooded by people seeking shelter-especially families with children. Over a period of months, the homeless shelter population swelled to more than 38,000 men, women, and children-the largest in our history.

"We were not alone in this experience; this was, in fact, a national phenomenon. In New York, it was writ large, as most things usually are. But most of you saw similar patterns in your cities, too.

"At first, our city's response followed a predictable, costly, and ultimately ineffective path. During our first-plus year in office, we increased our shelter capacity by 28%, establishing more than 2,100 additional shelter beds-more than the total number of shelter beds in the city of Philadelphia. That included the dubious distinction of opening the largest family shelter in the nation, at the Carlton Hotel, near Kennedy Airport.

"Yet despite these frantic efforts, we continued to lose ground. The intake process was so clogged that hundreds of children were spending the night sleeping on the floor of the system's central intake center-our Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx.

"I toured the EAU during that summer-my first in office. I'll never forget the squalor and suffering I saw. It was heartbreaking. It was intolerable. And it was clear evidence that "more of the same" simply was no answer.

"The status quo was a failure. We had to completely change course.

"Led by New York City Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs-who was then our city's Commissioner of Homeless Services-we started to chart that new course.

"That process began by fundamentally changing the conversation between the City and the non-profit agencies running our shelters.

"The shelter system we inherited had essentially only one yardstick of success: shelter capacity. If there was sufficient capacity to meet demand, no matter how large the demand was, then the system must be working.

"There was not enough focus on solutions. We discovered that, too often, no one could tell us how many people in a shelter were actively seeking permanent housing. There was more attention being paid to improving conditions inside the shelters than on the job of helping people leave them.

"What a gold-star example of conventional wisdom run amok! We were operating a shelter system that was on a treadmill to nowhere. And so, unfortunately, were too many of those the system sheltered for ever-lengthening stays.

"Think about what that means in human terms. For a little girl or boy to celebrate one birthday in a shelter is bad enough; but for a child to spend two birthdays there is simply intolerable.

"Yet that was threatening to become the status quo-a status quo fostering long-term dependency and undermining healthy childhood development.

"So we began to come at the problem with a completely different outlook. And we started with the great deflator of the conventional wisdom: the facts.

"We looked, for example, at families in our emergency shelters. And we found, in the overwhelming majority of cases, that their most important needs weren't drug counseling or mental health treatment or other necessarily long-term social service interventions. Primarily, they needed places to live; they needed homes of their own.

"So we decided to put first things first. We made the system's new focus putting families in shelter back in permanent homes of their own, and helping them stay there.

"We began to give non-profit shelter providers more of the resources they needed to achieve that goal. We invested in the providers that succeeded, and stopped giving free passes to those that did not. We also made it clear to shelter clients that they had to take greater responsibility for finding permanent housing, too-or face consequences, including having to leave City shelters.

"The result was that within a few months, the shelter population stabilized and began to shrink.

"That achieved the essential first step of bringing the homeless population explosion under control. But that was just the beginning. At the same time, we began to reinvent our whole approach to this issue-to develop a plan for replacing the dead-end model of managing homelessness with the new goal of ending it.

"Over the course of six months, leaders from the business and civic communities, non-profit providers, and City agencies worked together to formulate a comprehensive new approach to homelessness. Over the past few years, I know, many of you in cities around the nation have taken part in processes just like that.

"And in the spring of 2004, Linda and her staff presented me with the result: A strategy for ending homelessness in New York City within ten years.

"My response was that, if we were going to hold the shelter system more accountable, and shelter clients more accountable, we had to do the same for ourselves. I told Linda and her staff that, the voters willing, we were only going to be in office for another five years at most. (And I'm happy to say that, last November, the voters were willing.) So I told them to make it a five-year plan.

"There were a few stiff gulps around the table; accountability sometimes goes down hard. But the result is that in New York City today, we're well on our way to meeting the goal of reducing homelessness by two-thirds by the end of 2009-and in a few minutes, I'll give you a progress report on reaching that goal.

"Our plan is called 'Uniting for Solutions Beyond Shelter.' It sets out comprehensive goals and strategies: For reducing street homelessness; For dramatically increasing supportive housing; For continuing to help homeless individuals and families move out of shelters and into permanent housing; And, most importantly, for preventing homelessness before it occurs.

"In every instance, these strategies are designed to end the practice of simply throwing dollars at the problem-to institute accountability and demand measurable results, both for those we serve and also for the taxpayers who foot the bill.

"Let me touch briefly on each of the elements of this strategy, starting with street homelessness.

"In New York, the days of large-scale encampments of homeless people in public squares and parks are long-gone. Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom has persisted that a certain level of street homelessness is inescapable.

"But our view is that any level of street homeless, no matter how reduced in scope and visibility, is an inexcusable civic failure that consigns our fellow human beings to lives tragically shortened by exposure to the elements, to the ravages of disease, and to their own self-destructive behavior. Such chronic homelessness remains a blight on our streets and a blot on our conscience.

"So to drastically reduce these remnants of street homelessness in our city, we've again based our policy, not on opinions, hunches, ideology, or wishful thinking, but on data that can be measured and conclusions that can be proved.

"In that spirit, over the past three years, we've conducted an annual census of the city's street homeless population. It's our way of getting the facts about who the homeless are, and where they are.

"We use that information in directing the outreach efforts that focus on getting people off the streets and into housing.

"I can tell you our census makes some "advocates" in our city uncomfortable-maybe because keeping numbers vague serves their institutional needs. But for everyone else, knowing the facts makes a big difference for the better.

"And the evidence shows that we're moving in the right direction. This year, our census found some 3,800 homeless men and women on our streets-far too many, but still 13% fewer than in 2005.

"Today, I want to announce that we're launching the next major step to end street homelessness in New York. Over the past six weeks, our newly named DHS Commissioner, Rob Hess, and his team have identified the 73 sites around our city where some 350 homeless men and women-usually in groups no larger than four or five-have set up makeshift shelters under highways, next to train trestles, and on our streets. They're living in degraded and unhealthy environments.

"These small clusters are largely invisible to most New Yorkers-but they're not invisible to us. And now we're partnering with community organizations and faith-based groups to talk to those homeless people.

"And, humanely, respectfully, and firmly, we'll work to get these men and women to enter supportive housing, enroll in treatment programs, or go into shelters.

"We will not be complacent to their suffering or enable it through our inaction. We're going to let them know that their days on the streets must come to an end. And we'll secure and clean up the places where they've been bedding down, to make sure that they won't be occupied again.

"Our motive is the simple belief that every human being deserves better than to sleep on the streets.

"We're also continuing to move forward with an historic commitment to dramatically increase the stock of supportive housing with on-site social services essential for those who need extra help to get their lives back on track.

"It has a long-established track record as a compassionate and cost-effective way to provide housing to the mentally ill. This is an area in which New York City has led the nation-and now we're breaking new ground, by creating supportive housing for other groups who will also clearly benefit from it, including:

"Former State and City correction inmates, runaway youngsters, children "aging out" of foster care, and others who otherwise would be at risk of becoming long-term homeless shelters residents.

"Earlier, I mentioned our Administration's affordable housing program. A key element of it is a $1 billion partnership we reached with the State of New York last November. Along with money previously committed, it will fund production of a total of 12,000 new units of supportive housing in our city.

"Supportive housing costs no more than the homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and prison cells that for too long have been the refuges of last resort for too many homeless men and women.

"And the dividends it pays in improved quality of life for the formerly homeless and for the community as a whole are rich indeed.

"Supportive housing reduces reliance on emergency shelter. So does our innovative rental assistance program, called "Housing Stability-Plus." It's designed to help individuals and families who are receiving public assistance to leave shelters and find permanent housing.

"Housing Stability-Plus couples public generosity with personal responsibility.

"It is the largest discretionary rental subsidy program in the nation. It offers homeless clients five years of rental assistance-with the understanding that, as they re-establish themselves in permanent housing, there will be a 20% 'step-down' in their rental assistance grants each year.

"We're under pressure to end this step-down-but we won't change course. Fostering accountability and self-sufficiency is at the heart of our approach to ending homelessness. Where once we were in the business of providing opened-ended aid, now our strategy is to offer concentrated, well-defined help to get people back on their feet, and stay there.

"You can call it 'tough love,' hard-headed liberalism or compassionate conservatism, or a pathway to achieving self-reliance. I call it a prescription for success.

"Because after 18 months, the results of Housing Stability-Plus are encouraging. Since the program began in late 2004, more than 7,400 men and women in City shelters have signed leases for permanent housing-more than 6,700 of them families with children. That's more than 21,000 people-and to date, only a tiny fraction of them have returned to City shelters.

"Finally, there's perhaps the most important element of our plan: Homelessness prevention.

"Not quite two years ago, we launched a program called 'HomeBase' in six communities in our city where residents have historically been at the greatest risk of becoming homeless. In fact, these communities have traditionally accounted for a quarter of all family shelter residents.

"In many cases, homelessness in these neighborhoods arises when people are overwhelmed by lost jobs, sudden illness, family quarrels, or other problems which, while serious, need not be catastrophic.

"For too long, the City's only recourse was to offer them emergency shelter.

"HomeBase starts from the assumption that keeping people in their homes is a better, less drastic, answer. It works with neighborhood organizations to stop homelessness before it occurs, on a case-by-case basis.

"Sometimes that involves engaging in landlord-tenant mediation in order to avoid eviction. It has also meant setting up temporary loan pools to help tenants pay rent arrears. We've helped clients with job training and referrals, and with obtaining health care and other services for which they're eligible.

"In at least one instance, the solution was as simple as a pair of eyeglasses, that helped a struggling immigrant in the Bronx learn English, land a better job, and keep his family in their apartment.

"To date, HomeBase has helped almost 4,000 men, women, and children stay out of shelter and in their homes. It's done that at an average cost of $4,000 per client, compared to the $35,000 it takes to shelter a family for a year. In fact, 94% of HomeBase clients have stayed out of shelter altogether.

"And the same communities that once accounted for a quarter of family shelter placements now produce only 20% of such placements-solid evidence that we're headed in the right direction.

"Now, building on that success, we're going to dramatically expand such targeted prevention. Today, I'm proud to announce that, using funds realized because our shelter population is declining, we're making an additional $10 million investment in such strategies.

"This reinvestment will employ the kind of flexible, proven approaches that have made HomeBase successful. With these additional funds, each year, we'll help up to 3,000 families and individuals who have just secured housing to stay in their new homes, and prevent them from falling back into shelter.

"We can begin to make this reinvestment because today, the population in City homeless shelters is down 19% from its peak three years ago. The average number of children in shelters has decreased by roughly 30%.

"One result is that last August we were able to close the Carlton House shelter we had opened during the long hot summer of 2002.

"That's a major indicator that we're on target to our goal of reducing chronic homelessness in New York City by two-thirds by 2009. There have been, and will be, occasional glitches on our way to reaching that goal. I'm sure no one appreciates that more than all of you.

"But our overall progress has been such that during our first four years in office, we placed 100,000 homeless people in permanent housing. That's more than any other Administration in history accomplished in one term-and that's made all the more remarkable by the steep jump in homelessness we saw in our first months in office.

"It also gives me enormous pleasure to say that the city's old Emergency Assistance Unit-the most visible emblem of the failures of the past and the bankruptcy of the conventional wisdom about homelessness-was permanently shuttered on Independence Day, two weeks ago. We're already preparing to replace it with a new vastly more humane family intake center.

"In a few weeks, we'll begin demolition of the old EAU-and personally, I can't wait to see the wrecking ball go into action.

"So our new course is set, a course that is taking us beyond shelter. And over the next several years, as the number of people in shelter continues to decline, we'll reinvest more of the resulting savings in prevention, supportive housing, rental assistance, street outreach, and retooled shelters.

"Two years ago, for every dollar the City spent on prevention, three and a half dollars were spent on shelter.

"Now, as we reverse that ratio, we'll be able to continue to reinvent our Department of Homeless Services-reducing caseloads, for example, so that a better-trained homeless shelter staff will be more focused on helping clients find permanent housing.

"We'll intensify our efforts to prevent homelessness before it occurs.

"And as supportive housing in our city increases, the number of homeless New Yorkers will continue to fall.

"Now, as I mentioned, the State of New York is our partner in creating supportive housing. We also need a partnership with the Federal government, too.

"And because many of you will be paying visits on Capitol Hill while you're in Washington this week, let me close with a few words of strong support for the legislative agenda of this National Alliance.

"Our Administration joins you in working to ensure full funding of Section 8 vouchers, and to oppose block-granting Section 8, because that may not give us enough funding to meet rising costs.

"Our city's affordable housing initiative also depends strongly on continued Federal support for public housing, for Section 202 and 811 funding, and for a program that represents federalism at its best: Community Development Block Grants.

"And we also join you in urging passage this year of a bill with strong bi-partisan backing in both Houses of Congress: the "Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act."

"It would provide welcome Federal help in funding the services that make supportive housing so effective.

"Following the leadership of this great National Alliance, we can forge a strong partnership on these issues, one that reaches into every level of government that mobilizes national and local foundations and non-profit groups, and that taps into the bottomless good will of the American people.

"Yes, in the process we will have to abandon the vestiges of an outmoded conventional wisdom. They only stand in our way.

"But I agree with what the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said: 'That the conventional wisdom inevitably falls before the march of events.'

"Over the past few years, in New York and across the nation, the march of events-a march with this National Alliance in the vanguard-has begun to replace dependency with self-sufficiency, to supplant false promises with real hope And to redefine homelessness as a temporary condition, not a permanent and debilitating way of life.

"And if we do not slacken in our efforts, we will honor the American dream, and end homelessness across our great nation. Thank you and God bless you all."


Stu Loeser / Paul Elliott   (212) 788-2958

Angela Allen   (Department of Homeless Services)
(212) 361-7973

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