23/10/2013 08:14 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

The Invisible New Yorkers

Homelessness has become a sad fixture of modern life. Tonight, over fifty-five thousand New Yorkers will be sleeping in a shelter, others on the streets. Twenty-one thousand of them are children.  New York -- a city commended often for its progressive ideals and forward thinking -- lags behind other cities in combating this plight. The city must do more to achieve access to affordable housing and reduce the level of homelessness.

In the last decade, the number of homeless in the city has disturbingly increased by seventy-three percent, according to a report released by the Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless families in New York, represent one in six of all families in shelters throughout the nation. Ever increasing rent costs, exacerbated by the financial crisis, have forced poorer families out of their homes, lacking any affordable alternative. Research has concluded that the New York State could save $67 million in shelter costs if it supplied an attorney to residents facing eviction. Indeed, a South Bronx trial program that provided legal aid to 1,200 families stopped eighty-six percent of potential evictions. Furthermore, the program which ran from 2005 to 2008 cost $450,000 and saved the government over $700,000 in shelter costs.

The next mayor must tackle this crisis head on. It is an epidemic Mayor Bloomberg failed to adequately address. A new plan released by United to End Homelessness offers a series of achievable solutions which have the capacity to resolve the homeless upsurge which has befallen the city. One of the measures proposed should be implemented immediately by increasing the funding for HomeBase - a program which is designed to prevent homelessness from occurring by providing a range of services -- from access to health care and mental health services to short-term financial aid. The program has been rightly deemed a "model of innovation" to prevent homelessness but has been stymied by a limited budget limiting its scope of helping families on the brink of eviction.

In times of crisis, such as Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers have the remarkable capacity of coming together through adversity. There are countless stories of residents coming to the assistance of complete strangers who just required a hot meal and a safe place to rest for the night because it was the right thing to do. The homeless have become invisible to us, a tragedy on the sidewalk which we have chosen to ignore. It's a neglected crisis, one which can be fixed with just a fragment of the energy and humanity which arose to deal with the aftermath of a devastating storm. The time has come to help the forgotten voices of New York.