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Mayor "1%" Bloomberg Tries to Make it Harder for Homeless to Get Into Shelters (Temporary Reprieve Granted)

New York's Department of Homeless Services has tried to launch a new policy restricting access to shelters.

Last week the Bloomberg administration announced new eligibility rules that would make it harder for homeless people to get into city shelters, a cost-cutting measure astutely timed to coincide with the approach of winter. After a major outcry by homeless advocates and city council members including Speaker Christine Quinn, the city agreed last night to delay the measure pending a court review on December 9th.

Under the policy, originally set to go into effect next week, the city could refuse someone a bed at a shelter unless they proved they had no other housing options, such as staying with relatives or friends. Department of Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond claimed the new eligibility guidelines would prevent people who have alternatives to the shelter (like a princely spot on someone's floor) from filling up space reserved for the chronically homeless. Critics pointed out that redefining what counts as "homeless" and throwing bureaucratic obstacles at people in desperate financial straits is not the same thing as actually combatting homelessness.

Council member Annabel Palma and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn slammed the policy in a  joint statement, saying it is, "cruel, risky, unacceptable, and will not reduce homelessness in the city of New York. Denying people shelter because they have found another option for some period of time is punishing people for trying to do the right thing."

"The recession has had a real effect on unemployment and on people's ability to stay in their homes -- our charge is to find ways to help these people -- not to send them into the streets with nowhere to turn to for help," the statement continued. The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless vowed to fight the new guidelines in court, claiming they violate a three-decade old decree established by the court case Callahan v. Carey guaranteeing the availability of shelter for the homeless.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement in response to the city's temporary hold, "Today's agreement is a welcome reprieve from the mayor's dangerous proposal that would have meant more homeless sleeping in the streets and the subways this winter. Instead of erecting barriers to shelter, the Bloomberg administration should focus on reducing the record levels of homelessness in New York City."

New poverty stats out this week highlight, yet again, that this is not the time to cut vital services that help America's neediest. Forty-nine million people are living below the poverty line, according to a census report released Monday that used a more sophisticated gauge of economic hardship to measure poverty rates. Homelessness rates lag slightly behind increases in poverty for obvious reasons -- living on the street is usually a last resort -- but the Alliance to End Homelessness predicted in September that rising poverty rates would increase homelessness by 5 percent, or 74,000 more people.

"The lingering effects of the recession have pushed more and more Americans into precarious financial situations" they wrote. "Perhaps the most ominous indicator with respect to homelessness is the continuing rise in deep poverty." (Their projections were based on a lower poverty rate than that found in the most recent census statistics).

Meanwhile, a report by Coalition for the Homeless released Wednesday found that the numbers of unhoused New Yorkers have shot up to their highest in three decades -- 41,000 adults and kids sleeping in shelters -- according to data analyzed by the group's researchers. The Coalition points out that the Bloomberg administration's decision last spring to eliminate housing assistance programs for homeless families has not helped matters.

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