By Ivan Pereira
A new report has indicated that the city’s homeless population, which has been growing in southeast Queens, has reached an all-time high due to several policy actions by the mayor over the last few years.
The Coalition for the Homeless’ “State of the Homeless” report, which was released last week, said more than 113,000 city residents were living in shelters last year — an increase from nearly 105,000 in 2009.
The nonprofit said the statistics are startling not only because this is the highest number since the city started keeping records, but also because 47 percent of the population are families who were formerly homeless, made progress and lived without assistance but then were forced back into a shelter.
Without assistance and subsidies from the city, state and federal governments, this trend will continue, according to the report.
“Since the Bloomberg administration cut off homeless families from proven federal housing programs and replaced them with time-limited subsidies … more than twice as many formerly homeless families enter the shelter system each year,” the report said.
The city Department of Homeless Services dismissed the coalition’s analysis, stating that the recession has caused the city to change the way it can help the homeless.
“The true route out of shelter is not to rely on outdated policies that are irrational in today’s economic climate, but emphasis on employment and linking to key job services that will effectively assist clients to become self-sufficient and return to the community,” DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond said in a statement.
Although the coalition could not provide more specific data for Queens, the homeless population and shelter issues are major problems in Queens neighborhoods such as Jamaica, St. Albans and South Ozone Park.
Ten out of the borough’s 18 homeless shelters are in southeast Queens despite numerous protests from elected officials and community activists. City Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) are working on legislation that would limit the number of shelters in each community board district.
A day after the coalition’s report was released, Wills held a meeting at PS 124, at 129-15 150th Ave. in South Ozone Park, to speak with parents about a new shelter that opened up a few blocks away without any notice.
Under the legislation now being drawn up, the community would be notified well in advance of a shelter opening.
The coalition has suggested that the mayor take several steps to decrease the homeless population, including the renewal of federal subsidies. The report also suggested the city should provide more apartments to homeless tenants through available apartments from the New York City Housing Authority, Section 8 vouchers and the city Department of Housing.
Wills said the idea was a good start in the effort to decrease the number of homeless shelters that are opening up, but he said it needed to be implemented carefully.
“I think it is an incredible idea once we find out how much [NYCHA] stock is there, but we need to know how much stock is there for the low-income population,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated since publication to include a response from the Department of Homeless Services.