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NYC homeless shelters keep 50,000 people a night

NEW YORK — More than 50,000 homeless people a night — the most in decades— are in New York City’s homeless shelters, a spike that mirrors the largest increase in overall homelessness among the nation’s cities last year, according to a report released Tuesday.

Homelessness has been a troubling aspect of life in the nation’s biggest city for decades. But it has become an escalating crisis in recent years amid a chronic shortage of affordable housing and an unemployment rate higher than state and national levels.

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‘‘The state of homelessness in New York City has never been worse,’’ at least since the Great Depression, said the coalition’s president, Mary Brosnahan.

Advocates for the homeless portrayed the rising shelter population as the result of failures by a mayor who pledged to reduce homelessness by two-thirds; instead, the shelter numbers have risen at nearly that same rate since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. Bloomberg and the city’s top homelessness official said some progress has been made and advocates’ complaints do not acknowledge the city’s efforts to improve homeless people’s prospects.

‘‘We have many too many people that need shelter, and we’re trying to do things. You do things by creating jobs in the city,’’ among other measures, Bloomberg said after an unrelated news conference.

An average of 50,135 people per night were in city-run shelters in January — a 19 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Coalition for the Homeless report based on city data. It was the first time the number has topped 50,000 since record-keeping began in the 1980s.

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