Fox New's Bill O'Reilly on Monday ran a horrible segment in which he characterized homeless people in New York City's Penn Station as dangerous, playing into some of the worst stereotypes about the homeless — and got the underlying cause of the situation in Penn Station wrong.
Beyond being what Media Matters's Carlos Maza called "one of the most dehumanizing things I've seen on Fox," the segment also misses what could be behind a recent rise of homeless people at the train station. O'Reilly argues this supposed increase — which is completely unproven, and appears to be based on Fox News staffers and some New Yorkers' personal observations — is due to relaxed law enforcement because of "uber-liberal" Mayor Bill de Blasio's policing policies. Not only is there absolutely no evidence to support this assertion, but there's a much more plausible explanation: The number of homeless people in New York City has been trending up for years.
A 2015 report by the Coalition of the Homeless showed that, although homelessness appeared to stabilize between 2014 and 2015, it's trended way up for decades — long before de Blasio took office in January 2014. While the city's population grew by about 16 percent between 1990 and 2014, the number of homeless people tracked in the New York City shelter system more than tripled during this time.
This doesn't appear to be a problem only in New York. A 2014 study from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that, while homelessness declined by 2 percent between 2013 and 2014, it rose by 6 percent in New York City, where 12 percent of homeless Americans reside, and 1 percent in all major cities. So major cities generally saw a rise as the rest of the nation didn't.
It doesn't have to be this way. In 2005, Utah began giving homeless people permanent housing, and reduced chronic homelessness by nearly 72 percent in the following nine years, according to a state report. And it saved money in the process: Lloyd Pendleton, director of Utah's Homeless Task Force, estimated to Mother Jones's Scott Carrier that the state's program costs between $10,000 and $12,000 per person, which is nearly half of the $20,000 it would take to treat and care for a homeless person on the street. (These exact numbers don't apply to New York City, where housing is much more expensive.)
But to get policymakers to consider these types of solutions, there first has to be awareness that there is a homelessness problem. O'Reilly did nothing to bring attention to the real issue, and instead characterized people in clear need of help as dangerous just to take political shots at a mayor he doesn't like.
(h/t: Media Matters for America.)