Today’s Read: The Disease of Poverty

…Poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness. [New York Times]

These are the harsh, but not altogether shocking words of Dr. Perri Klass in yesterday’s New York Times. Dr. Klass, a pediatrician, describes firsthand what research has continued to show year after year: poverty is severely detrimental to children’s wellbeing. She reports asking her patients about their housing stability and ability to buy groceries and pay for child care. The answers highlight the stresses and complications of living in poverty:

Mother, father, older child and new baby live in one bedroom that they’re renting in an apartment, worrying that if the baby cries too much, they’ll be asked to leave.

I encourage an overweight 9-year-old who loves karate, and his mother says, “We had to stop; too expensive.” I talk to a new mother who is going back to work too soon, leaving her baby with the cheapest sitter she can find.

In more scientific terms, the toxic stress associated with growing up in poverty can actually permanently inhibit children’s brain development, causing lifelong disparities in academic achievement, health, and mental health.

Difficulties in school, poor health, and behavioral problems are realities we see every day with families in our Crisis Intervention Program and kids in our after school and Camp Homeward Bound programs. Moreover, we know that homelessness has even more negative effects on children than just poverty alone. In New York City, family homelessness has reached record levels, with 21,000 children sleeping in shelters each night. This disturbing trend can and must be reversed by making permanent, affordable housing available to homeless families. It is necessary solution for the health and wellbeing of 21,000 children.

Poverty as a Childhood Disease

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Still Undercounting Homeless New Yorkers

Amidst all-time record NYC homelessness, the Bloomberg administration released its latest flawed “guesstimate” of street homelessness, claiming that the numbers have declined despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The City’s latest HOPE survey estimate claimed that the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers fell slightly from last year, but that the number of homeless people sleeping in the subway system rose substantially. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

The number of homeless people sleeping in January on New York City’s subways climbed to an estimated 1,841, a 13% increase from the previous year and a 118% increase from 2005 when officials began collecting this data, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration said Wednesday.

While street homelessness remains low compared with other major U.S. cities, the number of people sleeping in city homeless shelters has climbed sharply during Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure. On average, more than 50,000 people slept each night in a city homeless shelter in January, including more than 21,000 children, marking a 22% increase in the past year. The city has seen one of the steepest rises in homeless families in the past decade, up 73% since 2002.

NY1 News also covered the release:

Even though the city says there are 28 percent fewer people living on the street since 2005, the Coalition for the Homeless says the way the count is conducted is questionable.

They say homelessness has risen to unprecedented levels on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch.

“By their own account, they don’t count people sleeping in non-visible locations,” said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless. “They don’t count people in every subway station, on every subway train. They don’t count people in every single neighborhood. So it’s simply a guesstimate.”

In response to the release, Coalition for the Homeless President Mary Brosnahan issued the following statement:

“Homelessness in New York City is at unprecedented levels under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch. 50,000 New Yorkers, including a record 21,000 children will sleep tonight in our emergency shelters.

Volunteers on our nightly feeding program, long-time outreach professionals and virtually anyone who lives in or commutes regularly in our city will find today’s announcement that street homelessness is down completely lacking in credibility.”

“Instead of trumpeting a deeply flawed study, Mayor Bloomberg should be investing in proven solutions to help ameliorate the suffering that has surged on his watch.”

Since its inception, we have noted many times how deeply flawed the City’s annual street homelessness survey and estimate is – see here and here. Following are highlights of the survey’s flaws:

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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