The number of homeless people staying the night in New York City shelters hit a record 53,615 in January, a new study reported by the New York Times has revealed. According to the non-profit advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless families, children and veterans is also on the rise in America’s largest city.
New York’s progressive new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has vowed to tackle the issue of homelessness head-on. Letitia James, the city’s new public advocate (a job once held by de Blasio), has decried the city’s “decrepit homeless shelters” in the “shadow of gleaming multimillion dollar condos.”
Mayor de Blasio’s got a daunting task ahead of him, and a city as large as New York may never be able to completely eradicate homelessness unless the root causes of poverty, inequality, mental health and discrimination are first adequately addressed.
Perhaps New York City can learn a thing or two from Phoenix, Arizona, where city leaders recently announced they had completely eradicated chronic homelessness among one particularly vulnerable population– veterans.
How did Phoenix accomplish this remarkable achievement?
“I simply made fighting homelessness one of my top goals,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton recently told Moral Low Ground. To that end, a combination of government, nonprofit, veteran and faith groups worked tirelessly to identify chronically homeless vets and get– and keep– them off the streets. It worked. The city’s chronic homeless veteran population fell from over 220 to practically zero.
“We had really good data. We knew what was out there. The ball got rolling… and as success after success mounted, agencies started committing more time and resources to the effort,” Brad Bridwell, co-creator of the Phoenix initiative, told Moral Low Ground.
Others cities have taken notice– and action. Salt Lake City recently announced it has become the second US city to eliminate chronic veteran homelessness.
Of course, chronically homeless vets are but one subset of the homeless population, and it’s much easier to successfully combat homelessness when there are only hundreds, maybe thousands, of homeless people living in a city than it is to do in New York, where the homeless are counted by the tens of thousands. But if New York is serious about significantly reducing the number of people sleeping on the city’s streets and in its shelters, it will have to do much more. Perhaps Bill de Blasio should give Greg Stanton a call.