Bloomberg Fails to Reduce Homelessness, Instead Experiments on Families

Two of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s programs to reduce homelessness have been hit by scandals recently. In one, applicants were deliberately denied help so the city could have a “control group” to study the program’s effectiveness.

The Advantage program—the centerpiece of the administration’s homeless policies, in which families moving from shelters to regular housing are given rent subsidies that phase out over five years—has been accused of exaggerating its success and ignoring data showing that a substantial number of families in the program end up back in shelters, the New York Times reported.

The declining subsidies are intended to encourage self-sufficiency, but critics have charged that they are a trap when low-income jobs could not cover high rents even before the recession. The Coalition for the Homeless reported that in the past three years, more than one-third of the families in the program have ended up applying to the city for shelter as their benefits expired, and a quarter of them wound up back in city shelters.

The Bloomberg administration recently increased the amount families in the program have to pay for rent, from a $50 minimum to up to 40 percent of their monthly income.

The second scandal involved the Homebase program, which offers job training, counseling services, and emergency payments to people at risk of losing their homes. In order to assess its effectiveness, the city Department of Homeless Services did a study in which one group of applicants received Homebase services—and the other group were arbitrarily denied them.

Department officials told the Times that the study was intended to evaluate whether the program’s success came from its merits or because the people who applied were more motivated than other poor people were. The people in the control group were referred to other agencies, they said.

In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg pledged to cut the city’s homeless population, then 38,000, by two-thirds in five years. That deadline has passed, and homelessness has instead reached record numbers. More than 39,000 are officially homeless now, and over 16,000 children are living in the city’s shelter system.