ALBANY — Next stop, the third largest city in the state: Homelessville, N.Y.
Alarming new data compiled by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and the Coalition for the Homeless found that 254,866 New Yorkers were homeless at some point over the past year, a number exceeding the population of every community statewide except New York City and Buffalo.
Even worse, roughly three out of every five homeless New Yorkers were of school age — up a staggering 68% since 2011, the numbers indicate.
“Things are really bad,” said Shelly Nortz, of the Coalition for the Homeless. “We’re not even treading water on addressing homelessness. It’s a problem that manifests itself in ways that are both seen and unseen.”
According to the data provided by the coalition and Hevesi, 129,803 men, women and children were in the New York City shelter system at some point in 2017-18.
There were also 76,836 homeless students in New York City who are not in shelters, including those who live in housing belonging to someone else. Another 38,180 students are homeless in other parts of the state.
“That number is going up astronomically,” Nortz said of school-age homelessness.
Hevesi, the Queens Democrat who chairs the Assembly Social Services Committee, said the state relies too much on shelters rather than finding ways to keep people in their homes.
“We’re spending billions on the world’s most expensive band-aid, while simply failing to deal with the root of the problem,” said Hevesi. “The long-term solution is by far the more cost-effective solution, but the governor refuses to act. It’s time he told the taxpayers why.”
Hevesi for several years has pushed a Home Stability Support program intended to reduce reliance on homeless shelters by creating a new rent subsidy to keep people in their residences.
The measure, which has widespread bipartisan support in the Legislature, would cost the state and feds $450 million. But Hevesi has argued it would ultimately save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by relying less on costly shelters.
A $15 million pilot program was included in this year’s state budget.
“Lack of political will is dooming countless children to a lifetime of difficult challenges that will ultimately come back on taxpayers,” he warned.
Hevesi said that New York State now has over 90,000 shelter beds — up by more than 24,000 since 2011. Most of shelter beds are in New York City.
But according to one homeless shelter professional, the Hevesi proposal would not solve the problem.
“Members of the homeless community are disconnected from the world of applying for affordable housing,” he said. “Homeless shelters help bridge this gap, but are significantly understaffed and underfunded.”
Additional social works to assist the homeless population would provide a boost, although at a high cost.
Aides to Gov. Cuomo dispute that the state is focused only on shelters, saying a $20 billion anti-homeless and affordable housing plan pushed through by the governor several years ago is leading to more supportive housing and the construction of affordable rental, senior and middle income housing.
They also assert that the administration has funded other affordable housing initiatives, programs that promote home ownership, and statewide human services programs designed to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.
And the Cuomo camp views Hevesi as an embittered, angry man over then-attorney general Cuomo jailing the assemblyman’s father, former Controller Alan Hevesi, in a massive pay-to-play state pension fund scandal.
“Gov. Cuomo’s $20 billion housing and homelessness initiative is supporting the creation or preservation of more than 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing,” said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens. “We understand Hevesi holds a family grudge, but these are the facts.”
A state official was also skeptical of Hevesi’s Home Stability Support program.
“There is no reason to believe that would do anything other than displace renters in the market that are just above the eligibility level for public assistance, and/or do anything other than drive up rents, which is why our focus has been to increase availability of affordable units,” the official said.
* Andrew Cuomo
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