Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city's homeless population is flooded with out-of-town homeless visitors seeking refuge, and suggested current shelter laws make it difficult to manage the increasing numbers.
Bloomberg said on Tuesday, "You don’t have to be a citizen of New York. You don’t have to have been here for any particular length of time. If you are here you have a right to shelter as specified by the constitution as interpreted by the courts."
New York's shelter policy is indeed unique from many other large cities because by law the city must provide shelter regardless of residency.
The Daily News reports the number of out-of-town homeless families recorded in city shelters has sharply risen by nearly 50 percent over the past four years, from 1,390 in 2008 to 2,053 in 2011.
However, homeless advocates say the mayor is averting attention from the real issues behind the rising numbers, using out-of-towners as a scapegoat to mask what's truly going on. Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless told NY1, "The real problem is we have high rents and low wages. And the real problem is that the mayor’s policies are not working.”
Homeless advocates previously derided the Bloomberg administration's controversial decision to end housing assistance programs such as Advantage, which sought to assist homeless families to transfer to more permanent housing.
Last November, the city received a shocking report recording a staggering 41,000 individuals living in homeless shelters, marking the first time the city exceeded 40,000.
The homeless numbers offer a stark contrast to Bloomberg's 2004 promise to reduce the homeless population by two-thirds over five years.
In January, the city initiated a rather unusual plan to combat rising numbers, hoping single adults living in shelters would return to their last places of residences. If residents agreed to take them back, the city would offer them furniture and food stamps in return. The plan coincided with Bloomberg's efforts to enforce a policy requiring homeless individuals to prove they have nowhere else to go.
The City Council officially sued the mayor over the policy.
In March, Bloomberg, citing safety concerns, banned food donations to city homeless shelters.