What Not to Do: 5 Lessons From Failed Unicorns

The name unicorn — a burgeoning company valued at over $1 billion — turns heads in the business world, but in actuality is far from a guarantee of sustained success, or even survival.

Many companies with the requisite amount of passion, planning and smarts have fallen by the wayside due to hazards, both internal and external. When you run a business, you must constantly learn from the mistakes of others, even those outside of your industry. This is a unique time to build a business, and even though you may not be in the tech sphere like most of these companies, there are real lessons for enterprises of every stripe to learn from, and hopefully, avoid.

1. Don’t overpromise.

Lofty goals are an important thing to have, but your business can’t be based on something you’re not ready to deliver. One of the biggest stories to come out of Silicon Valley last year was the startup Theranos, which promised a quantum leap forward in blood testing technology. Their tests, Theranos claimed, could perform a number of health assessments far beyond what was already possible. People are always eager to find the next big leap in tech, and one tied to the field of healthcare carried extra attraction.

Unfortunately, the facts of the tech didn’t bear out their lofty promises, and the company is facing the ire of investors and even Congress in order to answer for their false promises. It’s not impossible to imagine that Theranos might have been a successful company if not for the blind ambition that led them to overstate what they were truly capable of. Desire is a powerful fuel for any company, but you can’t let it drive you off a cliff.

2. Value your workforce.

The public’s trust is just one of the many intangible assets of your venture whose value can’t be overstated. One slightly more tangible one would be your workforce. Whether a startup with a handful of employees, or a massive conglomerate employing thousands, the people on the payroll are the ones who keep the engine moving, and to abuse them only hurts you.

The coworking spaces run by unicorn startup WeWork (52 locations in 16 cities worldwide), a glittering lure for young businesses, were the subject of some serious labor disputes from cleaners looking to improve their working conditions. The company responded by firing everyone in one fell swoop, showing a drastic misreading of the situation that caused irreparable damage to their image. In the drive to expand, the company sadly neglected to properly value the people who helped make it great, and they continue to pay a heavy PR price.

3. Be realistic.

After receiving huge valuations, it’s understandable that many of these companies have gotten carried away with their optimism. The temptation to spend like you’re already one of the big boys can take you down if you’re not quite at that level yet. Growing realistically and incrementally gives you and your organization the strong foundation necessary to avoid toppling over as you grow. Patience is a virtue, and a lack of it can bring you to the end.

Fuhu was a fast-growing children’s tech outfit which successfully made the leap from software to hardware but went off running a bit too far when their revenue projections outstripped their accounting department’s more realistic estimates. The pressure to meet these predictions was too strong, and new products aimed at bridging the revenue gap flopped, leaving them $100 million in debt to their supplier. After declaring bankruptcy, they were bought out by Mattel at a tiny fraction of their original valuation.

4. Honesty is paramount.

Your customers and clients are the most valuable assets of your company. If you’re not honest with them, you’ll inevitably come to regret it. Just a few years ago, the daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel, two competitors selling a virtually identical product, blasted sports fans with advertisements featuring people who had won huge amounts of money from their services and promising that these riches were well within reach of every user.

The fact, of course, was that a small minority of obsessed players were making the big bucks, while the casual users that the ads were aimed at ended up being taken for a ride. Not only that, but employees were using internal information about playing patterns in order to win money on the competitor’s site, showing a grievous top-down failure to police company culture. Not to mention the negative attention for their pseudo-gambling practice that drew ire from multiple state attorneys general. This fundamentally dishonest business practices gave these companies some astronomical success in the short term, but their influence and reach has dwindled today, less than three years later, to nearly nothing.

5. Get ready for serious competition.

You can have a great idea, but when you’re beginning as a startup, it might not occur to you that you’ve got enormous potential competitors in your future. As you get bigger, you must be ready to confront the entrenched interests that are already in your field. Don’t be surprised when they strike back in a big way.

This lesson was learned by Evernote, famously called “the first dead unicorn” by Business Insider. Their business software products gained them heaps of attention and venture capital, but stagnant growth meant that by the time they were on most people’s radar, their products were already being undercut by new offerings from Google, Microsoft and Apple. Even in tech, where a small organization can establish themselves among the bigger players faster than most industries, name recognition goes a long way, and now Microsoft’s OneNote and Google Docs have overtaken Evernote’s product suite and left them behind.

These companies are, of course, only a small sampling of the many highly-valued firms that have popped up in the past decade. The “unicorn” label doesn’t have to be an albatross for growing businesses to wear around their necks, but it does provide an unwelcome spotlight when they slip up. By not letting your revenue-based dreams interfere with smart business practices, you can ensure you’ll stay alive and relevant, unicorn or not.

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The 2 Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for ways to keep my business moving forward. You’ll hear all kinds of advice from those who came before you, some might have a bit of wisdom to them, some might not. For your business to be a true success, your personal attitude is paramount. The approach you take will determine whether you thrive or fail. To that point, there are two vital things you need to remember, the proven ways to help grow your business: be aggressive, and be proactive. If you follow these two guidelines, there’s no limit to where you’ll take yourself and your company.

Be Aggressive

Being aggressive means more than just throwing your weight around and being assertive. It’s about taking on every task before you with the passion and nerve you had when you first started. You’ve heard the old adage about genius being one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration? Business genius functions the same way. Hard work alone isn’t going to guarantee you success, but it’s the baseline that every successful entrepreneur has to start with.

Part of being aggressive is seeking out and adapting to every new development. Whatever your line of business is, there are going to be changes in the industry and if you’re able to adapt to them, you’ll be rewarded. In the real estate business, I’ve been a proponent of integrating solar technology in building projects and the growth in that sector makes me glad that I did. Staying aware of potential new progressions means you’ll always be ahead of the competition.

A great reason to be aggressive is that there’s so much information out there, you’re missing out if you’re not diving headfirst into it. Knowing what’s relevant is the key task, and once you’ve got a hold on that, you’re ready. Never forget that learning is a lifelong process. As Henry Ford, not a stranger to success in business, once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” Staying young means always growing, and learning is a key component of keeping that process moving.

My use of the word “aggressive” might be a little off-putting to some, but hear me out. Naturally, you may be concerned about stepping on toes, especially if your business relies on your public perception. But this might not necessarily be the case if you make aggression a key aspect of your strategy. In their book Aggression and Adaptive Functioning: the Bright Side to Bad Behavior, Professors Patricia Hawley and Brian Vaughn write about their research into the study of aggression. What they found was, contrary to popular belief, aggressive behavior is often seen as positive by peers, and improves rather than damages your image. If you’re worried about your image, aggression is an asset, not a liability.

Be Proactive

My second proven strategy is the counterpart to aggression. Harnessing that aggressive energy in a productive way means taking control of your destiny. Being proactive, in a business context, means keeping in control of what’s happening to you and your company. Aggression will drive you forward, but proactivity will keep you focused. Wrangling these two complementary strategies has proven reliable in growing my business, and will work for yours, too.

A proactive company is one that prioritizes strategic planning. This will include setting objectives for yourself and your team, making long-term decisions, and honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. To keep this a regular part of your schedule ensures your business is poised to attack the upcoming year. It’ll also keep everyone on the same page, so you can solve problems collectively. As Warren Buffet said: “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” You’ll reduce risk by having a clear plan of what you and the rest of your company need to accomplish.

Your strategic planning will need to accommodate future obstacles. While they’re unpredictable by nature, part of being proactive is doing your best to anticipate what’s yet to come. Look to the past, and learn from your own experiences and those of others in your industry. Of course there can be completely unforeseeable issues that you can’t plan for, but when you account for the ones you can, you’ll be able to balance your efforts and use everyone’s time efficiently.

The other side of that coin is the ability to take advantage of new opportunities. As the markets are always shifting, they can shift towards your direction if you’re tuned into new movement. As the world around you changes, don’t be afraid to stray slightly from your plan if a new stream of business looks more promising. Stay aware of things to come and you can get a head start on the competition. A proactive leader is ready to start new initiatives if they show promise.

These two strategies, when taken in tandem, will form the basis of any successful venture. There are a great deal of variables in running every kind of company, and how you react to them will determine whether your organization makes it or not. The analyses you make of your industry and your place in it are the key to continuing success. Just keep your priorities in mind, stay focused and don’t be afraid to be bold. A forward thinking approach, taken with a combination of vigor and logic, is the proven way to get ahead in any area of business and life.

NYC’s Newest Homeless Numbers and What They Mean

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

It might not come as a surprise, but it’s deeply troubling nonetheless. Our city’s recent push towards a more comprehensive assessment of the homeless population has provided the latest set of results and they are far from positive. The survey from the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) has the number of homeless New Yorkers at 3,892, an increase of over 1,000 from the same time in 2016.

At a time when there seems to be more money in the city than ever, these statistics are a painful reminder that not all citizens are fortunate enough to meet our basic needs. Living on the streets, for some of us a terrifying idea, is a daily reality for a growing number of people in nearly every corner of New York City.

Though these numbers are concerning, and rightfully so, the fact that we are aware of them at all is a promising sign for the city’s future. The HOPE count is part of the city’s relatively recent HOME-STAT homeless outreach program, the latest program designed to assist and house our city’s dispossessed residents.

Implemented in March 2016, HOME-STAT is the deBlasio administration’s attempt to use analytics combined with a street-level approach to evaluating the city’s homeless problem and finding practical solutions. The idea emulates the NYPD’s CompStat program, credited with helping in the massive, unprecedented reduction in crime the city saw in the 1990s and 2000s.

Informed by data collected by HOME-STAT employees, targeted efforts are made to assist and help shelter people living on the street. These “Swarm Teams” follow recommendations from HOME-STAT software to pinpoint areas with large concentrations of homeless people and engage with them personally, in the hopes that they will accept a transition to shelters with the long-term goal of getting them into housing.

While it’s not the cure that many hope for, HOME-STAT has made some headway in taking on the homelessness problem. They made headlines at the end of last year by announcing their programs had led to the temporary housing of nearly 700 of the city’s homeless. Even though they were not all placed in permanent homes, it can be considered a minor victory that some were convinced to come off of the streets. Eventually, it is hoped, more face-to-face interventions will result in a real reduction in the homeless numbers.

The mayor has urged patience in the matter, even at the announcement of the program in December 2015saying that it may take years before concrete results are visible. The kind of one-on-one work being done is indeed something that will take time. The trade-off of spending more effort on each individual means that fewer people will be directly affected, though this more holistic approach is a step in the right direction away from draconian policies that often left citizens dehumanized and disrespected.

One promising aspect of the new program is the level of transparency. On HOME-STAT’s website, detailed maps of 311 requests for homeless assistanceare available across daily, weekly and yearly timeframes. What this means is that citizens are now able to observe, in nearly real-time, where their fellow New Yorkers are calling the city to provide assistance. All of us will be able to keep tabs on the efforts to fight homelessness on a case-by-case basis.

Even though this program will hopefully result in drastically fewer homeless people, we are still seeing some evidence of the old short-term solutions like sheltering. Just recently, the administration announced plans to open 90 new homeless shelters across the five boroughs. Presumably, Swarm Teams will be shuttling the homeless towards these temporary residences, though ideally there would be housing in place.

Sheltering, of course, is a band-aid solution, if it is even considered a solution at all. Many homeless people choose to stay on the streets because they actually feel safer there than in the shelter system, where unclean and unsafe conditions are rampant. HOME-STAT’s true effectiveness will be seen when our homeless are housed safely and permanently, and that still appears to be a far away state of affairs.

It’s Not Micromanaging If You Do It Without Killing Morale

Hands-on leadership isn’t easy. But you can see your vision all the way through without discouraging your team.

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

When we use the phrase “micromanaging” we’re usually visualizing a leader who should have their eyes on the big picture, but is fussing over small details. The term carries a highly negative connotation of ineffective leadership, more concerned with obsessing restlessly over details than what’s going on in the big picture.

While this may be true in some cases, some of the most effective leaders are ones who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in their work organization. That means really knowing their people and getting into the operations of the company at their essence.

Make sure you are aware of what’s happening.

While of course you have trust in your employees, as the person in charge it’s better to be plugged into what’s happening beneath you than not. This is especially the case for those at the very top, who have a lot staked in the success of the business.

If you’re not completely invested in how things work out by paying attention to what’s happening at all levels, you’re neglecting your job and putting yourself at risk, plain and simple.

Employees need to know you trust them.

Micromanaging, when done correctly, is not a matter of wielding control. Managers who lose the trust of their employees by paying close attention do so because they are communicating that they do not think the employee is capable of doing their job without someone to look over their shoulder. Worse, these employees could even interpret the attention as a feeble need to wield authority.

You are not there to nitpick.

This is why communication and demonstration of your intentions is key. If your employees understand that you’re not there to nitpick what they’re doing, but simply ensuring that things are going smoothly, you’ll be keeping tabs on things without killing morale.

Being open about your intentions for them and for the company at large will leave no doubt that what you’re after is growth, not a nitpicking of their behavior.

Benefits of micromanaging.

The benefits of a smart micromanaging approach are many. Keeping your hand on the pulse of your business means that you can count on the necessary work getting done while your workers won’t feel you breathing down their necks. When the time comes to try new ventures, you’ll have a picture of where things will fit into your employees’ existing workload.

Your face around the office will be a constant reminder that no matter how high up the ladder you might be, you’re keenly aware of the company’s comings and goings. This means knowing the work to be done and how it’s happening, not whether every employee is using the right amount of paper clips.

Time management.

Task-management software is a great asset to this end. By assigning and completing work using these tools, you can be kept aware that things are progressing smoothly without having to check in on each employee several times a day.

This less-intrusive method has quickly become an essential tool for managing a team, and is something you should be checking multiple times a day as the person in charge.

Every organization needs to communicate to their employees the importance of a common goal. It’s the only way that all personnel can maximize their time and efforts towards making the company a well-run machine. When someone in a position of authority can point to every person on the team and identify exactly what they’re doing and their importance to those goals, it’s clear to all that the company is in good hands.

Only by getting into the daily nitty-gritty can you develop the operational knowledge to keep your team pointed in the right direction. If you’re the one in charge, you shouldn’t have to ask an assistant what’s going on.

Fix problems before they becomes too big.

Another way that conscientious micromanaging benefits you and your team is that with your knowledge of daily operations and results, potential problems can be taken care of before they grow into something unmanageable.

Yes, your closest advisors and lieutenants should be able to do the same thing, but your own set of eyes is most valuable since you’re the one who’s trusting their instincts, with a vision to guide the entire group. The last thing you want as a business owner is to be caught off guard. The possibility of unforeseen problems can be greatly diminished when you’re plugged into the details.

As a boss who gets into the minutiae, you’ll be better appraised of what your personnel are like than most other leaders. An understanding of every worker’s methods, habits and tendencies can be valuable knowledge for the person in charge.

For one thing, you’ll be able to assign tasks and duties to the person you feel is best suited for them. Not only that, but when you develop these relationships the team members who are on an upward tangent will make their presence clearer to you.

When openings arise, internal promotion can be a great motivating tool and will save you time and money with onboarding procedures. When you know all your employees’ strengths and weaknesses well, it’ll be an easier task to identify those best suited for a rise in the ranks and promote them accordingly.

Leave out petty business concerns.

As with every method of operating your business, there are potential pitfalls to be avoided. Besides the obvious need to not overcrowd your employees with petty concerns, there are a few other ways you can avoid being one of those leaders who gives micromanaging a bad name.

The ability to step in when a project or endeavor is going poorly is one of the great advantages of this approach. However, constantly putting yourself in front of employees when something goes bad can foster poor mental associations.

When an intervention or disciplinary action is necessary, it can sometimes best to delegate those delicate tasks. This is a matter of avoiding negative attitudes about the company as a whole, which is a quick morale killer. As the face of the company, you don’t want your workforce fearing you or thinking of you as a source of negativity.

Employees need ownership of their own work.

Another possible danger of micromanagement is a failure to give employees ownership of their work. While you are certainly the person behind the whole business, they’ll need to feel pride in their work. Being closely keyed into the company means that you’re keeping things on the right track, not that you’re giving every employee their inviolable marching orders.

The quickest way to kill motivation is to make your employees feel that they have no control in their work. Micromanage to keep tabs on the company, but don’t use it as an excuse to strip your employees of the ability to think for themselves.

You can’t delegate all tasks.

The modern entrepreneur simply cannot afford to sit in their c-suite office and delegate all tasks. In a dynamic market, a leader who fails to assess their company at every possible opportunity is one who will be rapidly left behind.

Micromanagement, far from being the scourge that it’s imagined to be, can be the difference between an aimless workforce and a focused one if done properly.

How the Homeless Get By When Disaster Strikes

Catastrophic natural disasters like the ones we’ve seen over the past few weeks frequently leave millions of Americans without their homes. This level of destruction and displacement often serves as a great shock to the country at large and millions of charity and governmental dollars go toward helping rebuild what was lost for so many families.

While this is, of course, a noble pursuit and an appropriately empathetic response, it’s easy to forget that many of the citizens of these stricken regions had already tenuous living arrangements or no place to call home at all. For those disadvantaged residents, the dangers of extreme weather events are not lessened in any way by the fact that they might not have as much to lose as their property-owning neighbors. In fact, the ever-present danger is only increased for this growing cohort of city dwellers.

The needs of the homeless as disastrous hurricanes or other weather disasters approach are multiplied when considering their already disadvantaged existences. Many of the dispossessed experience a compounding of the issues that contributed to their homelessness in the first place, including mental health issues and past traumatic experiences. These needs are often unaddressed in the emergency response and can result in worsened conditions after the storm passes and new traumas have been endured.

It’s sadly not a surprise at this point, but the odds piled up against the homeless are only increased by dire weather emergencies. Though the opportunity to put them into new housing should be most relevant when these kinds of disasters strike, unfortunately, Federal housing assistance offered to storm victims is doled out with higher priority given to those who already have homes. While it’s good that our government can help those who have suffered losses, it leaves behind those whose need for reliable housing is greatest.

In Houston and Miami, the two largest metropolitan areas to be hit this hurricane season, local authorities employed their existing homeless outreach teams to convince people living in the streets to come into specially designated storm shelters as the winds worsened. The usual job of homeless outreach took on a greater urgency as drastic weather bore down on these cities and their perpetually displaced residents. Many homeless Houstonians chose to weather the storm, having been so inured to their tenuous existence that the prospect of a catastrophic hurricane sounded more like “just rain.”

When simple coaxing didn’t work in Miami, the city utilized an unprecedented reinterpretation of the laws regarding detainment to forcibly take homeless people who hadn’t willingly left the streets into storm shelters as Hurricane Irma approached in September of this year. This strategy of taking citizens into custody “for their own good” illustrates the lack of agency that our homeless neighbors suffer from in their everyday lives. Whether the ends justify the means in this extraordinary case can be debated, but the entire episode shows how little power the homeless can have when it comes to their own safety and protection.

The issue of homelessness may be easy to forget when viewing footage of people forced to leave flooded or destroyed homes. It’s a bitter irony of these situations that we forget about the people who had no homes to lose in the first place. In an emergency, the homeless issue can often take a back seat at the very time when our focus on helping these citizens is more pertinent than ever. Absent drastic changes in our cities’ policies, this will be an issue that pops up with every new weather emergency.

To answer the question of how the homeless get by when disaster strikes: they don’t. “Getting by” for the homeless in storm areas and in all locations across the country sadly amounts, on a daily basis, to avoiding catastrophic injury, sickness, or death. As hurricane recovery efforts are underway, it’s unknown at the moment how many homeless people lost their lives but suffice it to say that they had much greater hurdles to escaping the storm than the average city resident. The news might feature heart-rending stories of those who lost everything in the disaster, but for many people in the hurricane’s path, much was lost long before any storm arrived.

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org

Stop Glorifying ‘Winging It’ and Make a Plan

Staying focused on whatever is the next thing gets you nowhere without a plan. Preparation and analysis are key for any business leader.

This past spring, the Fyre Festival was touted as the most luxurious music gathering ever put together, featuring five-star chefs preparing lavish meals and high-end lodgings. What attendees got instead were cheese sandwiches and disaster tents. The culprit of this high profile fiasco, as discussed by one employee who abandoned ship early, was a top-down failure to adequately plan the proceedings. The dangers of faulty planning were put on embarrassing display to the entire world.

Any pursuit carries some risk.

Any worthwhile pursuit will carry some amount of risk. That’s a fundamental truth both inside and outside of the business world. While there’s no shortage of motivational appeals to jump right into a new endeavor with both feet, that approach will frequently result in disaster. With all that’s on the line, why take those unnecessary chances? Without proper planning and preparation, you’re setting yourself up for failure more often than not.

The hard numbers will tell you the truth.

Preparation in a business environment means acknowledging the importance of crunching numbers and truly diving into detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls and benefits of any new endeavor. When you plan things out properly, you’re building the framework for success. When you fail to do so, you’re already starting out in the negative.

Facing fear for a change in your opportunities.

Of course, this doesn’t mean being afraid of change or opportunity. What it truly means is having the mental equipment to take a great idea from a thought to a reality. Whether opening a high-rise apartment building or running a mom-and-pop shop, any type of ownership will require an understanding of the importance of getting into the nitty-gritty of numbers. It’s the essence of truly being prepared to put your thoughts into action.

How will you research?

In order for numbers to be crunched, you’ll need to gather them first. Research, in a business context, can refer to a number of different methods. There are a multitude of ways that you can gather data for your company: from focus groups and customer surveys, to web analytics to measure your online presence, to the budget numbers in your internal books. Depending on the decision to be made, proper and thorough research must be performed accordingly.

Read publications online about your subject.

There may be other businesses with experience in whatever venture you’re trying. While you’re not always going to be the first to try a particular idea, you can be the best with intelligent and comprehensive research. Even a cursory Google search can offer a wealth of information about the strategy you’re considering. Business publications both online and off are so numerous that there’s a good chance at least one of them has written something on the subject. You’ll be remiss if you don’t make the time to take a solid look.

There’s so much to be gained by thoroughly assessing your ideas and the environment you’re going to be working in that it should be a key aspect of every move you make as an entrepreneur. All decisions affecting the bottom line need to be up to your personal standards of rigor. Running a business means knowing every aspect of what’s happening within it, from top to bottom. If you don’t have that knowledge, you’re not doing your job, no matter what industry you’re in.

The importance of data analysis shouldn’t be lost on any business owner. Your organization might not have the need for big data gathering and software, but you will still need to be able to assess the information at hand in order for your company to perform at its best. Every piece of data, from sales numbers to office supplies ordered, should be informing the way your business is run for the most efficiency.

Business data, in its many forms, will provide a thorough understanding of the numbers that make up your company’s comings and goings. When you’re preparing your business plan, those numbers are what your investors are going to be looking for. When selling your ideas, you can always expect to hear the question “what do the numbers look like?” You might remember from school that math truly underlines all of life, and this wasn’t just something your teacher told you to keep you quiet. It’s incredibly true, especially so in the business world.

The major thing you’re looking for when you crunch those numbers are the patterns that will define the direction your endeavor goes. They might not look like much to the untrained eye, but they can spell out a business’ future to a properly prepared one. Pattern recognition is one of the fundamental aspects of learning and understanding, and one that you should be looking to master if you want to put your great ideas into practice.

A full grasp of this skill set means that you’ll see things that others won’t. In the data, you’ll find the indicators of a promising venture or a doomed disaster. Knowing how to ascertain the meaning of the hard data that you’ve gathered means the life of your enterprise. It’s about seeing the truth buried within all the numbers.

These skills are more valuable than ever. A study performed by GlassDoor to assess the top jobs in America based on satisfaction, salary, and openings ranked data and analytics-centered positions in 3 of the top 5 spots. What that means is that more and more businesses are coming around to the idea that you need to be able to crunch the numbers and assess your data to get to the top (or remain there).

By placing a high priority on data collection and analysis, you’re giving yourself a major leg up on the members of your competition that don’t. You might not necessarily have a dedicated research or analytics department, but if you can find it in your time to gather as much information as possible before making major financial decisions, you’ll see the benefit in short order. The numbers won’t lie.

NYC Is Spending $1.2 Billion On Homelessness. So Why Is It Getting Worse?

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

It’s a little-known fact that the City of New York is legally obliged to provide housing for those without it, but with the explosion in the city’s homeless population, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that.

The number of people staying in shelters in New York City has grown by over 10,000 since Mayor de Blasio took office to more than 60,000, with no relief in sight. There is no official estimate for those who are not in shelters, but needless to say the total number of homeless in the city is a great deal higher. After committing to a record $1.6 billion in spending to fight the problem, the city has seen no reduction in the number of people forced onto our streets. Needless to say, there is no shortage of disturbing facts about this issue, but a look at our city streets is all one needs to realize it’s getting worse. What’s absolutely clear by now is that it’s not simply a matter of money. How could the problem be getting worse when our Mayor has made such a public stance against it?

One reason for the growth in the homeless population is also a fundamental source of consternation for most New Yorkers over the past decade or so. It’s no secret that, nationwide, housing affordability is a major issue, and New York City is home to some of the most egregious examples of this. As neighborhoods transform, housing costs go up and many working-class residents end up being priced out to make room for new arrivals. As you go down the earnings line, those at the bottom too often end up homeless after losing their jobs, sometimes even while they are still working. As much as affordable housing is a political bargaining chip, there is still not nearly enough of it to satisfy the needs of lower-income New Yorkers.

The buck doesn’t stop at City Hall, either. Decision-makers in Albany have made their own contributions to the crisis, depriving vital programs of funding. A proposed complex of affordable apartments in Sunnyside, Queens was scuttled by Governor Cuomo, invoking his authority over the MTA, which owned the land. Even going back to Mayor Bloomberg, his cancellation of the Advantage program which provided homeless with housing vouchers was disposed of for claimed reasons that the system was being abused. Today, fewer programs are giving the homeless the help they need.

The programs that do exist are often woefully inadequate. The overcrowded shelter system, the main infrastructural source of help for the homeless, has long been an insufficient source of support for people in need, especially families. Many users of the system have described it as a claustrophobic, prison-like environment where violence is an entirely too common sight. New York Daily News research found that in 2015, there were over 1,500 “critical incidents” of violence and ill behavior in city shelters, more than five per day. It’s no wonder that many choose to take their chances on the street rather than be locked in with a potentially dangerous population. Staying on the street is often a rational choice to be made over taking on the deteriorating conditions in the shelters.

Another inadequate option is what’s called “cluster housing,” where the city rents apartments in low-income neighborhoods for homeless families. Instead of having access to a support system, these families are instead placed at the mercy of landlords who are, in general, not attuned to the needs of their new tenants and are simply collecting checks from the city. The danger of these sites was thrown into the spotlight last December with the tragic story of two sisters under the age of 3 killed by a faulty radiator in a cluster apartment in the Bronx. Hotel placement has been similarly dispiriting, with conditions that are not much better. To his credit, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to shut down these cluster sites, but progress is slow.

A particularly unfortunate aspect of this crisis has been the lack of empathy not just from political leaders, but the population at large. Anger over housing for the homeless has erupted in several neighborhood protests of proposed housing for the homeless, with demonstrations in Maspeth, Queens shutting down a shelter that would have housed up to 220 people. These demonstrators frequently argue that new shelters are merely a bandaid for the problem, but a main opposition seems to be a simple desire for their neighborhood to stay the way it is.

All of us share in the responsibility to help those who need it. It’s clear that a serious problem exists, with no clear solution. What we can all do is maintain awareness and make a commitment to advocate and provide assistance for the unfortunate who live in our city’s streets. Not everyone needs to spend a few cold nights on the street in order for the city to possess some empathy for the less fortunate. We’re all New Yorkers, and we all deserve the dignity and compassion that’s been lacking for so many.