It’s been a long while since right-wing extremist Heather MacDonald has shared her mean-spirited views about homelessness with New York City’s tabloid newspaper readers. And honestly, we can’t say we’ve missed her.
But today she took to the brimstone op-ed pages of the New York Post to spread more lies about homelessness and poverty in New York City — and essentially to repeat her call for evicting thousands of homeless families and children from shelters to the streets.
MacDonald, a fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute, has a long history of writing harsh opinion pieces about homelessness and poverty, mostly for the right-wing-friendly New York Post op-ed pages and the Manhattan Institute’s in-house journal. Throughout her career, MacDonald has invented a sort of right-wing fantasy world where she relentlessly blames homeless people (particularly mothers) for their homelessness and aggressively attacks any form of government assistance. (Those with cast-iron stomachs can find a list of her articles, a sort of topography of this extremist fantasy world, here.)
But back in November 2008, as the recession was already forcing more and more New York families into unemployment and homelessness, MacDonald reached a new low. Once again turning to the icy NY Post op-ed pages, she called for, yes, eliminating all funding for emergency shelter and services for homeless families:
“This year, New York will spend a mind-boggling $433 million to provide free housing for families claiming homelessness, virtually all headed by single mothers. That’s on top of the nearly $200 million the city spends on ‘homelessness prevention’ – cash grants and lawyers’ fees for fighting eviction suits. No other US city offers this entitlement….[T]he city can’t afford a nearly half-billion dollar subsidy to a small fraction of its population.”
Without going into the myriad factual errors in MacDonald’s piece, let’s consider what she’s really proposing. Currently there are more than 10,000 homeless families with more than 16,000 children sleeping each night in municipal shelters and welfare hotels, and during FY 2009 nearly 44,000 different homeless children slept in the municipal shelter system. MacDonald, therefore, is effectively advocating that all of them be turned out into the streets.
In today’s return to the frigid op-ed pages of the NY Post, MacDonald again mangles real-world facts to call for more harsh treatment of poor and homeless families.
First, in defending the State and City policy of forcing homeless families to pay for the cost of shelter — something that would lead to longer shelter stays and thus higher costs for taxpayers — she attempts to equate homeless shelters and welfare hotels with private apartments and genuine, permanent housing. Then she goes on to assail a host of common-sense reforms, like ending the costly, ineffective, and punitive policy of finger-imaging recipients of Food Stamps. Finally, she goes on to tell a whopper of a lie:
“In New York City, a single mother of two with an $8.25 an hour job winds up with a $63,000 income, when cash supports for work and medical and housing benefits are included. On welfare alone, that same mother pulls in $43,000 a year — a whopping amount for non-work, to be sure, but still less than work provides.”
Still residing in her right-wing fantasy world where facts don’t matter, MacDonald twists the truth about the real-world lives of poor families. She pretends to assign a meaningless cash value to Medicaid, child care benefits, and Federal housing vouchers — utterly ignoring the facts that (1) Medicaid is health insurance and not cash income, (2) most working-poor mothers cannot obtain formal child care, and (3) only a small fraction of eligible low-income New Yorkers actually receives Federal housing assistance.
In the real world, of course, a working mother of two with a full-time job paying $8.25 per hour earns $330/week or $17,160/year before taxes. A similar family receiving welfare gets $307 in cash assistance per month, and only $400/month to pay for housing — far below the real-world income needed to pay real-world rents in New York City’s expensive real-world housing market.
But of course in MacDonald world — found in the right-wing fantasy galaxy populated by other extremists — homeless mothers are “putatively homeless single mothers” and “single mothers claiming homelessness.” And they’re to blame for their homelessness because of “out-of-wedlock children” and “irresponsible behavior.” Real-world problems like high rents and low wages have nothing to do with it.
Thus, today MacDonald again attacks “a nearly half-a-billion dollar annual bill to house single mothers claiming homelessness” — once again effectively calling for kicking thousands of homeless children and their families out of shelters into the street.
Over in her fantasy world, MacDonald might not mind seeing infants, children, and their parents sleeping rough on the streets of New York City in the dead of winter. Over here in the real world, home to compassionate New Yorkers and their homeless neighbors, we’ll continue to struggle for affordable housing and basic, decent treatment of families in need.
Last night, the City of New York conducted its annual street homelessness count. The Coalition has repeatedly expressed concerns over the accuracy of the count, as seen here. Yet, regardless of our criticisms or the City’s stance, life goes on for all homeless men, women, and children in New York City and it continues to be rough for all those living on the streets.
Gabe Pressman of NBC New York recently went out to report on the situation first-hand and he found that life on the streets is as rough as ever. Braving the elements, from bitter cold to snow to rain, many street homeless struggle day after day just to survive. As Pressman put it:
“I have been reporting on the homeless crisis since the 1980s. I spent the other night, out on the streets, trying to get a sense of today’s situation. I don’t know where the magic numbers come from. It seems to me that the situation of homeless New Yorkers is just as desperate today as it was yesterday.”
One major resource for the street homeless is soup kitchens. As part of his investigation into life on the streets, Pressman joined the Coalition for the Homeless Grand Central Food Program for an evening of feeding those in need. The Coalition Food Program is a mobile soup kitchen that brings meals to designated spots all around the city each night. Pressman also visited St. Francis of Assisi’s bread line, which has reportedly served more folks recently than ever before.
Regardless of the results of the City’s annual estimate of street homeless individuals, we know for sure that there are more homeless people in shelters than ever before. As for those living on the streets, there are still too many for any New Yorker to accept.