NYC’s most vulnerable left out in the cold

As recently reported in Gay City News, next month the City’s largest drop-in center for street homeless adults–the Open Door–will be closing. This follows a year-long reconfiguration of the drop-in system, which used to consist of eleven citywide, 24-hour facilities. Now, there are only 6 drop-in centers citywide and only 3 of them operate on a 24 hour basis. The closure of Open Door will bring the count down to just 5, with only 2 in Manhattan.

Drop-in centers serve a vital purpose for the street homeless. They provide meals, showers, and referrals to beds run by faith-based organizations among other things.

Many community groups and advocates are concerned for the future of services for street homeless individuals. First, the remaining drop-in centers will not be able to accommodate the overflow from the individuals who have been using the Open Door, which amounts to about 200 people each day. Other centers have already reported an overflow of demand even while Open Door is still open and operating. The Department of Homeless Services claims that those who are currently served by the Open Door will be referred to permanent housing, but when two other drop-in centers were closed last year, a mere 20% of the clients were referred to permanent housing.

Secondly, with record numbers of homeless individuals in the municipal shelter system, there is little to no room to accommodate many new entrants. Throughout much of the winter, the system has been operating at over 99% capacity.

Third, DHS also claims that adding more faith based beds will make up for the lack of space at the closed facility. Even if they are able to do this, they neglect to account for the fact that faith beds rely on drop-in centers for referrals. Therefore, regardless of the number of faith beds, the capacity of the drop-in center services is really what determines the number of referrals. With fewer drop-in centers, there are effectively fewer staff members and resources to refer clients to faith-based beds. Even before Open Door has closed, many faith providers have reported underutilization because of the inability of the drop-ins to keep up with demand.

Overall, the situation is dire for street homeless individuals living in New York City. With no alternative plan in place to assist them, men and women will surely be left out in the cold.

Mayor’s Management Report shows an increase in homelessness

As reported by Cindy Rodriguez of WNYC last Friday, the preliminary release of the 2010 Mayor’s Management Report confirms what we have been seeing over the past many months–homelessness has increased dramatically. The report covers the progress of city services from July to October of 2009.

During this time, the number of families with children entering shelter increased by 25 percent since the same time last year. In addition, the number of single adults entering shelter increased by 8 percent. The report also showed that after leaving shelter, the rate of return increased for both single adults and adult families, while the family return rate remained the same.

While the number of families placed in permanent housing increased, “the number of single adult placements fell by 25 percent.”

Disturbingly, the report also indicates that the average school attendance rate for children in the shelter system is 82 percent, indicating that homeless children will miss a month of school while being homeless!

Overall, the report is not a good sign for homelessness in New York City and we hope that it will spur the city to change course in its homeless strategy.

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