Support for the Homeless

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While the governor and mayor struggle to complete this year’s budgets, a group of advocates for the homeless have started lobbying for some cash out of next year’s pot, and insist it will actually save the government money in the end.

Last week, a coalition of 20 nonprofit groups called on Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to budget about $1 billion for the creation of 9,000 apartments with supportive services–from job training to substance abuse counseling–for homeless adults with mental disabilities as well as for homeless families.

Citing the rise in the city’s adult shelter population–about 40 percent of whom are estimated to suffer from mental illness–the campaign’s coordinator, Steven Coe of Community Access, said, “We can’t wait for another crisis; we need to start planning today.”

Their proposal, called New York/New York III, would expand a program that has funded the creation of 5,115 apartments for homeless people with mental illness since 1990, when then-Mayor David Dinkins and Governor Mario Cuomo signed the New York/New York I Agreement. That first deal allocated $194.7 million for 3,615 apartments that were built and run by nonprofit service groups.

The Pataki and Giuliani administration didn’t take the program any further, until tragedy struck: In January 1999, Andrew Goldstein, a homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, shoved Kendra Webdale in front of a subway, killing her almost instantly. Three months later, the governor and mayor signed a second New York/New York agreement for another 1,500 apartments. Some of these homes are still under construction, but, fearing the shelter population will continue to grow–the shelters for single adults are at their fullest since 1990, housing an average of 7,914 adults a night as of March–advocates hope to get more apartments funded. They have also asked for 1,500 supportive apartments for homeless families, who are filling the city’s shelters at record levels.