City Blames Homeless for Being Denied Shelter

Last week, Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the City of New York for failing to provide adequate shelter to homeless single adults. The City’s response was in no way surprising-they blamed the homeless individuals for coming in too late or “refusing” beds. But the reality is not so cut and dry. Many homeless men and women arrive at shelter on time and if there aren’t enough beds at the shelter, they are offered a bus to another shelter. These buses can leave as late as 2:00 AM. Those that do accept the bus are awakened at 6:00 AM and told to return to the original shelter. Even after all of this, there may not be enough beds at other shelters.

According to a recent article in The Indypendent,

“The reality is much more complicated than the neoliberal explanation that the homeless need to show more “personal responsibility.”

The reason why there exists such a high demand on the municipal shelter system is because of a horrendous economy, unemployment, evictions from apartments, and the complete lack of any affordable housing in the city. All of those reasons are set against the backdrop of thousands of vacant property sites around the city and a huge waiting list for placement in public housing even as public housing apartments remain vacant for long periods of time due to “renovations,” as the city claims.

The stakes are even higher as the winter cold approaches, when historically demand for shelter has soared.”

Coalition for the Homeless has been warning the City for months about the increase in demand for shelter. As the winter weather gets colder and colder, the City must immediately rectify the overcrowded conditions and fulfill its legal obligation to provide for these men and women.

Homelessness Beyond the Inner City

Two recent news reports show how New York’s growing homeless population is impacting people and communities beyond the inner city.

Friday’s New York Times included a report about the controversy in a northern Bronx neighborhood surrounding the conversion of an apartment building into a makeshift shelter for homeless families.

In August, the NYC Department of Homeless Services began using apartments in the Westchester Square building as temporary shelter for homeless families, as the City’s rushed response to the all-time record number of homeless families. The arrangement is part of the misguided “scatter-site shelter” program, in which the City uses apartment buildings — most of which were intended for low- and moderate-income tenants — as costly temporary shelter.  For instance, as the Times article notes:

“The city pays roughly $2,700 a month per unit, far more than the market rate for rentals in the area. The apartments were advertised for $1,400 a month.”

The controversial “scatter-site shelter” program was initiated in late 2000 by the Giuliani administration but has been dramatically expanded by the Bloomberg administration (which, in an act of PR wizardry, re-labelled it the “cluster-site” program — without, however, changing any of the program’s essential features).  After news reports and a City Comptroller’s audit of mismanagement of the program during Mayor Bloomberg’s first term, the administration was grudgingly forced to respond.  As another New York Times article from March described the program:

“By 2002, it had grown from 50 units to more than 2,000, and was widely criticized as an expensive failure costing $2,900 a month per apartment. After a public outcry, Mayor Bloomberg and Ms. Gibbs, then the commissioner of homeless services, vowed to shut down the program.”

However, after a brief reprieve, that promise has not been kept.  Indeed, over the past three years the Bloomberg administration has expanded the program enormously, from 623 “scatter-site shelter” units at the end of November 2006 to 1,727 units at the end of November of this year, a 177 percent increase.

With family homelessness at all-time record levels, it’s once again time to end this misguided, flawed program and move homeless families into permanent housing instead of more-costly shelter.

The second article, also from this weekend’s New York Times, described the rising homeless population in New York City’s suburbs.  In Bergen County, New Jersey, for example, one shelter which has been full for more than a month has been seeing many new faces:

“‘We used to see really hard, down-and-out people only, and now we’re seeing a lot of people who just are kind of in trouble and don’t know anything about the safety-net system,’ said Mary Sunden, who manages the shelter. ‘They’re just kind of running out of money and they’re getting evicted or they’re getting an eviction notice and don’t know what to do.'”

Thus there are more and more signs that, from the poorest neighborhoods of New York City to the surrounding suburbs, the economic downturn has pushed many families and individuals into homelessness.

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