Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) went on the defensive when asked whether he was moved by the New York Times’ powerful series on a homeless family struggling to survive in New York City. Bloomberg defended his homelessness policies and claimed that 11-year-old Dasani, the star of the piece, ended up in dire straits due to bad luck.
“This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not,” he told Politicker, calling her plight “a sad situation.”
Bloomberg argued that New York “has done more than any city to help the homeless,” citing the city’s policies of subsidized health care, job training, and shelter counseling. “But if you are poor and homeless you’d be better off in New York City than anyplace else,” he insisted.
The New York Times series explicitly tied Bloomberg’s homelessness policies to Dasani’s destitute situation. “The Bloomberg administration adopted sweeping new policies intended to push the homeless to become more self-reliant,” the Times’ Andrea Elliott wrote. “They would no longer get priority access to public housing and other programs, but would receive short-term help with rent.”
As a result, Dasani’s family and others like hers found themselves unable to escape the shelter system. Homelessness swelled by 60 percent during Bloomberg’s term, despite his vow to reduce the city’s homeless population by two-thirds in five years. The mayor told the New York Times last year that families were staying in shelters longer because he had improved them to be “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before” — a quote that stood in stark contrast with Elliott’s descriptions of Dasani’s decrepit shelter, which is still operating after inspectors cited it for violations 400 times.
Bloomberg went on to attack the media for not understanding how good Dasani and her family have it compared to poor people in developing countries. “I think one of the problems is a lot of journalists have never looked around the world,” he said, going on to tell the reporter that “your smirk shows you haven’t been outside the country and don’t know what poverty means elsewheres.”
Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio last week said he was deeply affected by Dasani’s story, vowing, “We are simply not going to allow this kind of reality to continue.”