So in preparing for a job interview today, I am reading this report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness. It's a fascinating tale of the increasingly terrible policies for homeless families since the Reagan counterrevolution. Prior to the mayorship of Ed Koch, New York City had no official emergency shelter system, and relied on a loose network of private landlords and non-profits to fill the gap. Koch implemented a more formalized public shelter system that often found itself underfunded, overcrowded, and in violation of the law. As the wave of privatization and means testing kicked in in the 90's, the shelter system was drawn down by contracting services and refusing requests for housing. When Bloomberg took office, he did everything in his power to take the burden of solving homelessness off of the city government by outsourcing services to private for-profit companies, most without any sort of contract.
The report does a really great job with telling the story of the Department of Housing Services and the city's battle with the law requiring that the homeless be taken care of. It does, in my opinion have two blind spots. The first is that it largely fails to present these events in the political and social context of their time. As such, it often presents the actions taken by certain mayors as merely bad decisions rather than ideologically driven decisions. Second, in its narrow scope to focus on just the provision of housing (and just emergency family housing at that), it fails to take into account the effect that policies around policing, public transfers, and public employment programs had on exacerbating the crisis of homelessness that the city has faced for at least the past 45 years.