Number of New Homeless NYC Families Hits All-Time Record

Coalition for the Homeless has released some alarming new data showing the early and dramatic impact of the economic recession on New York City homelessness.

The Coalition’s recent policy brief (available here) documents how, in September, 1,464 new homeless families entered the New York City shelter system – the highest number in the 25 years that the City has tracked this data, and the third consecutive month that the number of new homeless families has reached all-time record levels. The Coalition’s alarming findings were reported by the New York Times and the New York Daily News.

Following is the text of the Coalition’s news release:

Coalition for the Homeless Reports New Homeless Families Entering Shelter Hits Record High

NEW YORK, October 29, 2008 – Today, Coalition for the Homeless released a briefing paper showing that 1,464 newly homeless families entered the New York City shelter system in September, a record high. In each of the past three months, the City has recorded a new all-time record for new homeless families – each month eclipsing the prior month. This is the greatest number of new entrants to the family system since the city began keeping records 25 years ago.

Combined with the economic downturn and impending job losses, 2008 is on target to see the all-time highest number of new homeless families seeking shelter since modern homelessness began in the late 1970s. Food pantries, eviction prevention and crisis intervention services for homeless families have already experienced budget cuts this year.

“These numbers clearly show that, while both City and State budget shortfalls require difficult choices, vulnerable New Yorkers now need more support, not less,” said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless. “Shared sacrifice has to mean that all New Yorkers – not just those that depend on government services – pay the price. The Mayor and the Governor should consider not only more cuts but also increased revenues.”

Homeless New Yorkers and the Right to Vote

Election Day is fast approaching, and this November 4th residents of New York will be faced with some important choices. In addition to the momentous election for President and members of Congress, New Yorkers will be choosing members of the State Legislature and Assembly and – given the current economic recession, the fiscal crunch, and the ongoing crises of homelessness and housing affordability – the decision will have lasting impact on low-income and homeless people statewide.

Homeless New Yorkers will also be going to the polls, in large part thanks to a landmark court ruling that is less than 25 years old.

In 1984 the United States District Court, Southern District, ruled in Pitts v. Black – a lawsuit brought by Coalition for the Homeless on behalf of several homeless people – that local boards of election in New York could not prohibit homeless people from registering to vote.

The Pitts v. Black case challenged the disenfranchisement of homeless New Yorkers. A group of homeless people sued the State and City Boards of Election because homeless people residing in shelters, hotels, or on the street were not permitted to register to vote. Before trial, a consent decree was entered permitting homeless people in shelters to vote. In October 1984, the Federal district court ordered election officials to permit persons living on the streets to register to vote. A two week extension of the time for the homeless to register to vote in the 1984 election was also ordered by the district court.

While this landmark court ruling secured the right to vote for homeless New Yorkers, homeless people in many other states continue to struggle against barriers to voting – the National Coalition for the Homeless has information about homeless voting efforts nationwide.

Homeless Kids and School Absenteeism

A new report from the Center for New York City affairs at The New School paints a troubling portrait of chronic absenteeism in New York City public schools and notes that it primarily affects children in low-income neighborhoods. The report, “Strengthening Schools by Strenthening Families” (available here), concludes that, “Chronic absenteeism in elementary schools is disproportionately a problem in poor and minority communities and it immediately puts students behind their middle-class peers.” (The New York Times provides a summary of the report here.)

In its executive summary, the report states that two of the major causes of chronic absenteeism are “dislocations caused by eviction” and “traveling between homeless shelters.” Unfortunately, the report does not highlight how the City’s homeless policies exacerbate these problems.

Data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services show that during the last fiscal year nearly 34,000 different NYC children slept in municipal shelters, more 18,000 of them school-age kids, and that at least one out of every five school-age homeless children failed to attend school regularly.

Research and experience have shown that homeless kids have a harder time in school, in part because the instability of their families’ lives makes it harder to attend classes regularly. Making matters worse, the Department of Homeless Services’ intake and placement policies often prevent children from attending school for long periods of time by bouncing them from one shelter to another night after night.

So, one way the Bloomberg administration can address chronic absenteeism – and help struggling homeless students – is to reform City homeless policies to ensure that every homeless school-age child can attend school.

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