Mayor Bill de Blasio began his Wednesday morning discussing income inequality on MSNBC and ended it with the publication of an op-ed in The Washington Post. In between, a largely sympathetic profile landed in Rolling Stone, outlining his push for a national platform.
Yet as Mr. de Blasio moves to bolster his stature as a leader of the Democratic Party’s liberal wing, at least one signpost of inequality has remained persistently dire on his watch at home: Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression, according to advocates, with shelter populations in December exceeding 59,000 people, including about 23,000 children.
On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio is expected to detail plans aimed at combating the problem as part of his executive budget presentation. Officials said Wednesday that the city would commit $100 million in annual spending, including funding for rental assistance to more than 7,000 new households, anti-eviction efforts and other measures.
In a statement, Mr. de Blasio said his administration was “using every resource we have to combat homelessness.”
The number of homeless people sleeping in municipal shelters has grown almost 70 percent in the last decade, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. The street presence of unsheltered homeless people in the city has prompted advocates to draw unfavorable comparisons to decades past, though city officials disputed this notion, calling the perception a function of the weather, among other factors.
The specter of a rising shelter population has received additional attention since last month, when the director of a Bronx homeless shelter was abducted and killed by one of its former residents, according to the authorities.
The mayor’s budget plans come on the heels of an agreement, reached last year by state and city officials, to provide rental assistance to homeless families in which at least one person holds a full-time job. Officials have also begun a subsidy program, aimed at chronically homeless families, and a pilot program subsidizing the rent of domestic violence victims with children.
Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, deputy mayor for health and human services, said the city had seen some positive trends amid the increases in rental assistance. Since October, the city said, more than 6,300 people have left shelters for permanent housing. The administration said its “diversion rate” — the number of people on the cusp of entering shelters, before receiving help to remain in their homes — had also improved in recent months.
Aides to the mayor and advocates for homeless people disagreed on the current number of unsheltered homeless people in New York City. The administration, citing a survey conducted in February by the Department of Homeless Services, said the figure had decreased 5 percent in the past year, to 3,182.
The Coalition for the Homeless has long cast doubt on the survey’s accuracy, citing the cold weather during the count and the efforts of homeless people to conceal themselves from any authorities.
“It just flies in the face of common sense,” Mary Brosnahan, the group’s president, said of the supposed decrease in unsheltered homelessness. “Across the board, New Yorkers are seeing more homeless people.”
In general, advocates have compared Mr. de Blasio favorably to his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Ms. Brosnahan, who was briefed on the budget proposal on Wednesday, praised the plans, which include new federally funded rental assistance for more than 1,200 households and additional money for legal assistance in housing court.
Last week, several elected officials and an advocacy group, Homes for Every New Yorker, called on the city to allocate 2,500 New York City Housing Authority apartments each year to families in shelters.
“The city is choosing to do less than what it can do,” said Ritchie Torres, chairman of the City Council’s public housing committee. “We should make the best possible use of every tool that we have, including public housing.”
The city allocates some housing authority units for homeless people, but officials have balked at setting aside thousands, citing extensive wait lists.