The Coalition for the Homeless released its annual State of the Homeless report this week -- and it shocked many. Over 50,000 New Yorkers will bed down in our city's shelters tonight -- and that includes over 21,000 children. Yes, you read that correctly: 21,000 girls and boys will sleep in NYC shelters tonight. That's a 22 percent increase over just last year. And family homelessness is up a shocking 73 percent since Michael Bloomberg took office.
Rather than address this unprecedented catastrophe and commit housing resources to move people into stability, Mayor Bloomberg chose to attack the messenger -- in this case, the Coalition -- saying we're "not a reputable organization."
I'm blessed to work with the BEST people in the world here at the Coalition. Tim Campbell recently wrote an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg -- take a look:
An open letter to Mayor Bloomberg:
Mr. Bloomberg, as the Director of the Programs at the Coalition for the Homeless, I write to respond to your comment that the Coalition is "not a reputable organization." First let me say that I hold no hard feelings, Mr. Mayor, because I know you've had a lot on your plate these past eleven years and couldn't possibly be expected to know about all the work that gets done at the Coalition each day.
For instance, how could you know that the same night that you said the Coalition is "not reputable," three of our Crisis Intervention staff took it upon themselves to visit the shelters out on Wards Island -- on their own time, and after an exhausting work day -- after receiving a host of complaints about poor shelter conditions. It's not part of their job descriptions, but they were worried about these homeless men and so that's how they chose to spend their night - going out to see problems firsthand. They found scores of disabled men going to bed cold, without basic linens or blankets - let alone the simple dignity of a pillow. Doesn't exactly conjure the fine amenities that you spoke about back in summer: I believe "pleasurable" was the word you chose to explain why New Yorkers seem to be staying so much longer these days in our shelter system. But I can assure you that Coalition staff made sure that those men got the linens and blankets they needed to keep warm that night.
You also probably don't realize that the Coalition has NYC's largest mobile feeding program - providing nearly 1,000 hot meals every night of the year to the hardest to reach of our neighbors sleeping on our streets. And you couldn't possibly know that the morning after Sandy devastated huge swaths of New York and shut down the transit system, our unstoppable staff somehow found a way to make it to our kitchen. They cooked the same meals they cook every day and our vans went to the same stops they make every night, and men and women and children who wouldn't have eaten that day got a meal. Because they knew that Coalition staff and volunteers would be there for them, as always.
With all you have going on, you can hardly be expected to know that each week we help hundreds of desperate men, women and families with small children who have nowhere else to turn and so they line up every morning to see our Crisis Intervention staff -- a staff who possess a fervent loyalty to those they serve and, frankly, work miracles.
And surely you don't know that the Coalition prevented the eviction of nearly 500 families last year alone, rescuing them from the certainty of devastating homelessness and from joining the ranks of the overcrowded shelter system. We managed to do that with just two (overworked) full-time Eviction Prevention staff.
Or that for over two decades the City has relied on the Coalition to provide stable homes and life-saving services to hundreds and hundreds of families living with AIDS. And maybe you haven't heard about the other affordable, permanent housing we provide day in and day out, or the job training for homeless and low-income women, or the after-school programs and wonderful summer sleep-away camp we offer to hundreds of NYC's 21,000 homeless kids - helping to restore hope by allowing them to just be children again, if even just for a few weeks.
It seems what you have heard about, Mr. Mayor, is our advocacy work. In fact, our advocacy work has so impressed you that both you and your Department of Homeless Services Commissioner have credited our four-person advocacy department with single-handedly taking down the Advantage program, and creating the unprecedented homeless crisis NYC faces today. Of course, you must know the absurdity of these claims. After all, you are a man who puts tremendous value on accountability, data, and outcomes.
The sad truth is that in 2002 your administration started from a place that believed the worst about people living in poverty -- that they sop up assistance they don't need in order to exploit any available resources - and you designed your homeless systems accordingly.
The results of your approach could not be more clear. Any imagined incentive to enter the homeless shelter system you've long since stripped away and, make no mistake, it is a desperate place no one would ever choose to go, given a real choice. Yet the number of people residing in shelters continues to grow past levels unthinkable just a few years ago - 50,000 tonight, and counting.
In the end, the Coalition's State of the Homeless 2013 report -- as upsetting as you found it -- is based entirely on your administration's own data, and accurately reflects the stunning failure of your response to homelessness.
Rather than blame others, Mr. Mayor -- including those who have been tirelessly feeding our hungry neighbors in the streets, holding the hands of homeless mothers and wiping the tears of homeless children for the past three decades -- perhaps you yourself could demonstrate the accountability that you espouse so fervently.
As someone who has worked for the Coalition for over a decade and has watched our amazing, inspired and selfless staff helping thousands of homeless and poor people each day with dignity and respect -- this much I know: That if you bothered to ask the opinions of the homeless people we serve -- and those are the opinions we value most - they would tell you that the Coalition is, in fact, a most reputable organization.
Tim Campbell, Director of Programs, Coalition for the Homeless