“It’s Not the Ritz-Carlton”

Three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York, hundreds of evacuees remain in City-funded short-term emergency shelter (and thousands more remain in FEMA-funded temporary placements). But while some evacuees ended up in Manhattan tourist hotels, many others were placed in decrepit rooming-houses and squalid hotels. This Sunday’s Daily News exposé documented the terrible living conditions where some Sandy evacuees still languish.

I’ve done outreach at many of these locations, and – along with my Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid colleagues – have witnessed these and other terrible conditions first-hand, including those at two decrepit rooming houses in the Bronx:

“In the beginning, it was kind of shocking,” said a stoic Antonio Ramirez, 60, who was placed in a decaying SRO at 1038 Faile St. in the Bronx that has been cited repeatedly for vermin and fire safety issues.

Ramirez’s tiny, bare-walled apartment has no smoke detector, and outside next to a stove in the hallway a hand-written sign reads, “CLEAN UP AREA — DON’T FEED ROACHES!!!” (Daily News)

Another illegally-converted building on West 128th Street in Manhattan housed dozens of medically frail men and women even while the Department of Buildings had a stop work order on the building. Coalition for the Homeless knows of one case where a woman using a walker was hospitalized after falling down the stairs at the shelter on 128th Street.

In typical unfeeling fashion, Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that temporary accomodations “are not [like] living at the Ritz-Carlton.”

In addition to terrible conditions, the larger question of long-term housing remains. Coalition for the Homeless’ extensive outreach efforts have found that many evacuees were precariously housed before the storm, in illegal basement apartments, rooms without leases, and doubled up with family members. A significant number have medical needs, including diabetes, asthma, and even cancer. All of these families are struggling to survive on extremely low and limited incomes.

But as the Wall Street Journal reported today, the City’s attempt to match evacuees with affordable housing has been disastrously inadequate. While market-rate apartments remain completely out of reach, the Bloomberg administration has attempted to target “affordable” units to evacuees through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Of the 1,100 families that have applied for assistance through HPD, over three-quarters are ineligible because their incomes are too low.

Two months after government officials struck a landmark deal with landlords to set aside 2,500 affordable units to house victims of superstorm Sandy, one apartment lease has been signed.

Many of those displaced by the storm are too poor to pay rent even for apartments restricted to city residents with low or middle incomes, while others don’t want to move far from their homes in the Rockaways or Staten Island.

In a narrative all too familiar, now victims of Hurricane Sandy are up against Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to provide for even minimal stability for our most vulnerable citizens. With thousands of our displaced neighbors in dire need of affordable housing, the mayor’s current response – squalid, short-term shelter and no future plan for the stable re-housing of evacuees – remains unsustainable.

No Way to Count Homeless New Yorkers

Tonight the City conducts its annual HOPE survey of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers. And once again, the survey’s numerous flaws mean that the resulting estimate will undercount the homeless population and misinform the general public.

As we’ve written in previous years, and in a briefing paper available here, there are major flaws in the City’s annual HOPE survey — we’ve summarized those flaws below. Most glaringly, the survey fails to include homeless people sleeping in non-visible locations, which researchers say make up some 40 percent of the unsheltered homeless population.

But even more troubling, year after year the Bloomberg administration conducts the HOPE survey like a PR extravaganza, complete with trailing TV news crews. This further confuses many New Yorkers into thinking that the survey and its resulting “guesstimate” are an actual count.

The bottom line is that Bloomberg administration officials’ spin from the annual survey — that street homelessness is down — sharply contrasts with what most New Yorkers see and what front-line service providers report. Street homelessness has become more and more visible in recent years, and soup kitchens and other emergency services are seeing more and more unsheltered homeless people seeking help.

And when you add this to the all-time record-high SHELTERED homeless population — now more than 48,000 people per night, including more than 20,000 children, up nearly 60 percent from when Bloomberg took office — it’s clear that New York City is still experiencing a historic and worsening homelessness crisis.

Major Flaws of the Annual HOPE Survey

• The HOPE survey is an estimate, not a count — a fact that the City’s public relations strategy obscures.

• The City has refused to reveal how many homeless people are actually counted each year, NOT the “guesstimate.”

• The survey fails to count homeless people in non-visible locations — researchers think that some 40 percent of street homeless people sleep in non-visible locations.

• The survey has failed to adjust for obvious survey errors.

• Changing weather and other conditions make it impossible to compare one HOPE estimate with another.

• There are questions about whether the NYPD increases enforcement actions against street homeless people in the days leading up to the survey.

• The City’s claim that homelessness decreased in 2009, during the first year of the economic recession (and not so coincidentally, a NYC election year), is simply not credible.

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