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NYC homeless numbers hit record high, agency says

Homelessness in New York City has hit a record high with nearly 60,000 people living in shelters, despite the de Blasio administration’s efforts to bring down the number.

As of Thursday, 59,948 people live in city homeless shelters — a number that doesn’t count the more than 2,500 people who sleep on city streets and refuse to go to shelters, according to the Department of Homeless Services.

The shelter census has steadily risen from more than 50,000 in January 2014, when Bill de Blasio took office as the 109th mayor.

How to manage the city’s flourishing homeless population has bedeviled de Blasio, who until late 2015 shrugged off claims as tabloid hyperbole that homelessness was on the rise.

But with opinion polls showing sagging approval ratings, in part because of homelessness, and his own police commissioner saying the population had “exploded,” de Blasio reversed course in December 2015. He soon unleashed a plan that included daily sweeps of homeless hotspots, a top-level bureaucratic reshuffling, and redoubled resources to tame the problem, and promised that the city would never return to the “bad old days” of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The administration has blamed the latest spike in homelessness on the end of a housing subsidy program called Advantage, which helped vulnerable New Yorkers pay rent to keep them in their homes. That program ended in 2011 due to state budget cuts during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

On Thursday, de Blasio’s homelessness agency sought to put a positive spin on the highest homeless population ever.

The city’s top homelessness official said the high number is still lower than internal predictions had the city’s efforts not been in place, because the statistic is “breaking the trajectory.” The number of homeless has risen steadily over the past three decades. It was about 24,000 in 1994.

A news release boasted: “7,000 fewer New Yorkers in shelter than projected as a result of de Blasio administration homeless policies.”

As long as records have been kept, going back in time, this is clearly a high number,” said Steve Banks, the de Blasio official who was promoted to oversee homelessness after his predecessor abruptly quit in 2015. “But it’s not as high as it was projected to be.”

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