June 18, 2021
In the Democratic primary’s last days, and with New York’s economy starting to regain its footing, a chronic problem gains new urgency.
Random slashings on the subways. Groups of men clustered outside Midtown Manhattan hotels serving as homeless shelters. Anti-Asian attacks on the streets.
In the closing days of New York’s Democratic primary for mayor, the city’s chronic struggle with homelessness has taken on increasing urgency. As the city moves to reopen for business and tourism, public concern — and the candidates’ attention — has focused on a small number of people who are mentally ill and potentially violent.
The issue is complicated. Homeless people are not involved in every unsettling incident, and they also have been targeted in vicious killings and other attacks. Their advocates warn against demonizing a large group of people who are struggling just to survive. Most of the 48,000 people in the main shelter system are families with children, not single men.
Before the pandemic hit, the shelter population had increased since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, even as he doubled spending on homeless services to more than $3 billion. The number of families in shelters has dropped sharply since early last year, largely because of an eviction moratorium that has been extended through August. If it expires then, hundreds of thousands of tenants who collectively owe over $1 billion in back rent could lose their homes.