Albany and City Hall are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, and thousands of homeless families are trapped in the middle.
Every spring, as we debate the tough choices that inevitably must be made to balance our budget, we hear from thousands of New Yorkers, non-profits and mayors -- from cities big and small -- who warn of the consequences of cutting the State programs they rely on.
Often, they are right. My colleagues and I have fought hard to restore cuts to schools, healthcare and services for the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. But not every program Albany funds is a winner. Some, like New York City's "Advantage" program for homeless New Yorkers, are ineffective and a poor use of our limited resources.
Advantage aims to move families out of the shelter system and into their own apartments -- a crucial and important goal. But its bureaucratic rules and rigid cutoff dates have resulted in many people who enter the program, ending up back on the streets or returning to the City's overcrowded homeless shelters. This winter, the City's own data confirmed that one-third of those who left the program ended up homeless again. In short, the program simply isn't working.
The program has been paid for through a mix of City and State funds, but this year Governor Cuomo made the hard choice to end the State's portion of that funding. In response, Mayor Bloomberg has threatened to end the program completely and immediately, even pulling the rug out from those who are currently utilizing the services. The City's Department of Homeless Services has even sent letters to the 15,000 households currently enrolled in the Advantage program, notifying them that their subsidy would be terminated, leaving many to fear that they could be back out on the streets in just a few months.
This unnecessary, alarmist response serves no purpose other than to make headlines. As state officials and homeless policy experts have argued, New York City can responsibly phase out the failed Advantage program and return to alternative programs that we know work, like moving qualified families into Federal housing programs, such as public housing and Section 8. That was the proven approach used by the City for decades (even under Mayor Giuliani!), and that has helped thousands of families move into permanent, affordable homes and restart their lives. But as of now, Mayor Bloomberg and the City have not proposed an alternative solution, instead they have simply said it's either this program or none at all. I see no sense in that.
The Coalition for the Homeless, New York's leading voice for sensible, effective homelessness policy, has launched an online letter writing campaign, calling on the Mayor to stop the scare tactics and go back to the cost effective programs that we know can reduce family homelessness.
Join me and send your letter to Mayor Bloomberg online.