Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Homeless Families Overwhelming NY City Shelters

  • NY Times: Sept. 4, 2007 -- A Challenge to New York City's Homeless Policy

  • There was an interesting article in the NY Times yesterday concerning the huge number of families who are staying in New York City homeless shelters, in spite of the fact that they are technically "ineligible" to do so. New York City is claiming that since these families have the ability to stay with friends or family in other apartments by "doubling up," they are voluntarily draining the system of resources and time.

    I believe New York City is greatly overestimating the generosity of its residents, as well as the laziness of these families. While "doubling up" can be preferable to staying in a homeless shelter, especially many of the homeless shelters in New York, it is not a realistic solution. The families in the article are right to protest and demand a better solution.

    Many landlords have rules against additional roommates who are not on the lease, and most apartments are really not feasible living spaces for multiple families. Few would find it acceptable for New York City to tell families they couldn't utilize emergency shelter because they owned a car or a tent. An overcrowded apartment is probably better than a car or a tent, but not necessarily by much.

    While I understand that New York City may not necessarily have the resources to provide proper care to the estimated 28,000 people utilizing its shelter systems, they should be able to come up with a better answer than "go find a different place to crash."

    The reality is that most people don't enter the shelter system until after they have "doubled up" for a period of time already. As these living situations become untenable, people move on to the shelter system. Many others attempt to live in their vehicles, and still others avoid the shelters entirely for a host of valid reasons. City planners across the country have to realize that shelters are typically a last resort for people, not the first step.

    Another thing I would have liked to see the article address is the reason for the huge increase in homeless families; "record numbers," according to the article. This is a direct result of the Bush administration's useless policy of fighting so-called "chronic" homelessness to the exclusion of really helping anyone else.

    As Brian so aptly described with his
  • Skittles simile
  • on NEOCH's blog, it is an exceedingly stupid waste of resources to chase the hardest and most resistant clients with the most resources, and screw everyone else in the process. The nation has seen a huge increase in homeless families as a result of this diversion of resources, and it was already difficult to find appropriate housing for families in the first place. Additionally, many cities, like Cleveland, have few, if any emergency shelters where families can stay together after they've become homeless. If the same is true for New York City's shelters, then it takes even greater gall for the New York City to whine as if these families were lining up for a free stay at the Ritz.

    Posted by Kevin

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