Just as the weather outside starts to turn frightful and the holidays approach, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Thursday a new policy that will make it harder for homeless people to gain entry to the city's shelters.
The policy, which is set to go into effect Nov. 14, is aimed at saving the city $4 million in homeless services costs by turning shelter seekers away at the door if they reveal during the intake process that they may have another option.
The move has already drawn the ire of City Council leaders, who say the move is an unfair and cold-hearted way to address the issue of homelessness, which has grown as the economy has faltered in recent years.
Critics say those options -- staying on a friend's couch or a relative's floor -- eventually run out when the charitable person's patience runs out, and that Bloomberg's new policy would essentially throw people in such a situation out on the street, or require them to lie about their circumstances on official intake forms.
City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, a Democrat from the Bronx and chair of the council's General Welfare Committee, told the International Business Times Friday that the policy is cruel and risky.
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She argued that though it may reduce the city's official homeless statistics, it will do nothing to actually reduce homelessness in New York City.
This policy sets us up to find more people ineligible for shelter, thereby giving the impression that there are less homeless people here, Palma said. The way the city calculates the city homeless population, we don't count people that are living in the street, and we don't count people who are ineligible. This policy may sort of blow up in the city's face and end up with more people living on the street.
Palma has scheduled an emergency oversight meeting of her committee for Nov. 9, to look at the policy if it is not repealed by that date.
The Bloomberg administration did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
More than 39,000 people were in shelters throughout New York City on Wednesday, the most recent date when daily city homeless census data was available from the city Department of Homeless Services.
The DHS's annual HOPE Walk, during which volunteers comb every inch of the city in order to count the number of people living on the street on one of the coldest days of the year, estimated that there were 2,648 unsheltered individuals living in New York City in 2011. That number is up from 2,328 in 2009, but down from 3,111 last year.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat from Manhattan, agreed with Palma in a joint statement they released Friday. Her office initially heard about the announcement during a televised news report Thursday night.
This policy is an irresponsible 'no room at the inn' approach that does nothing to address the record number of people experiencing homelessness in New York City as winter approaches, the pair said in the statement. We urge the Bloomberg administration to reverse this policy.