Coalition Testifies on Navigating the Shelter System as a Family with Children

This week, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare on “Oversight – From PATH to Permanency: Navigating the Shelter System as a Family with Children.” Currently, a near-record 15,328 families with 23,000 children are sleeping in the shelter system. While the City must make full use of all housing resources to move more of these families into permanent housing, it should also take immediate steps to make the shelter intake and placement process less traumatic for homeless men, women, and children.

The testimony addressed the error-prone intake process for homeless families at the PATH center, which has become more onerous since the City prompted the State to modify an administrative directive that governs shelter eligibility in November 2016. The testimony also explained how the City’s ability to provide appropriate shelter placements and disability accommodations has suffered as shelter capacity has tightened – a situation that would only worsen should the Council’s proposed “Fair Share” legislative package pass.

In order to improve the experience for families navigating the shelter system, the Coalition and Legal Aid presented the following recommendations:

“The City, jointly with the State where applicable, must improve shelter processes and conditions in order to reduce the trauma of homelessness for children and families. Specifically, The City and State should implement a less onerous shelter intake process in which 1) applicants are assisted in obtaining necessary documents, 2) the housing history documentation requirement is limited to a list of residences for six months, and 3) recommended housing alternatives are verified as actually available and pose no risks to the health and safety of applicants or to the continued tenancy of a potential host household.

“We support Mayor de Blasio’s plan to discontinue the use of dangerous and inappropriate shelter models, such as cluster sites and hotels, but urge that the schedule for ending their use be accelerated. Further, the Mayor must make use of all available housing resources for homeless families, in order to achieve meaningful reductions in the shelter census and reduce the need to develop new shelter capacity. This could be done by increasing the number of placements into NYCHA apartments from 1,500 to 3,000 per year and by adding at least 10,000 more affordable housing units set-aside for and built for homeless households not in need of supportive housing.

“Last, the pending “Fair Share” bill package introduced in the City Council is designed to restrict the siting of certain facilities and should be amended to exclude shelters, supportive housing, and other facilities serving those with disabilities in order to ensure that they do not exacerbate the current capacity crisis and force more families with children to the streets. As currently written, they could be used to foster unlawful discrimination and violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act and jeopardize the City’s access to Federal housing resources.”

The full testimony can be read here.

Today’s Read: Members of Congress Question Housing First

Research over the past few decades has shown that providing people with a permanent home and appropriate support services can give them the stability they need to subsequently overcome other challenges such as mental illness or substance use disorders. Housing First is an approach to homelessness rooted in the assumption that providing housing swiftly and without preconditions offers the most effective stabilizing foundation to foster further problem-solving. For example, this study demonstrated that people entering housing without sobriety requirements reduced their consumption of alcohol.

Housing First can be implemented in several ways, including through the provision of short-term housing subsidies also known as Rapid Rehousing. However, providing access to permanent, affordable housing has been proven to be the most effective for maintaining future stability and improving family and child wellbeing. Housing First for families and for those who are chronically homeless requires adequate and long-term investments in order to be effective and sustainable, but it has been shown to save tax dollars over time by reducing the use of emergency shelters, correctional facilities, and hospitals.

Despite the demonstrated success of Housing First in reducing chronic and family homelessness, 23 Members of Congress wrote a letter earlier this month to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development expressing their concerns about the approach. Specifically, they questioned HUD’s practice of prioritizing low-demand models over “programs that work to alleviate the effects of poverty by supporting sobriety, work, and accountability” – ignoring that for many people, housing is the essential foundation that enables them to address their other challenges. Regrettably, the authors of the letter seem to misunderstand both the breadth and value of HUD’s emphasis on Housing First strategies, and altogether miss the point of Housing First for homeless families and individuals. It would be more productive and cost-effective for Congress to ensure that adequate funds are provided to sustain Housing First for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Konrad Putzier wrote about the lawmakers’ letter – and the response from New York City Hall and advocates – for The Real Deal:

“We fully support the homelessness prevention and rehousing approach underlying Housing First,” said a spokesperson for the New York City Human Resources Administration. “Without stable and appropriate supportive housing it becomes much more difficult for these individuals to consistently remain engaged in the health, mental health and other services they so desperately need, which will result in more people living on the streets.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the agency is working on a response to the letter.

Supportive housing projects following Housing First guidelines make homes available to homeless people without strings attached, such as drug or sobriety tests. The idea is that it’s easier for people to deal with substance abuse or mental health problems after they have found a place to live in.

The George W. Bush and Obama administrations singled out Housing First as a key strategy in their push to end homelessness, and in recent years HUD increased funding for projects following the guideline.

But nearly two dozen House Republicans oppose it, arguing that by removing conditions attached to housing the policy doesn’t give homeless people with substance abuse problems enough of an incentive to sober up. “By implementing its preference for the Housing First model, HUD has removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety,” the group of Republican Congressmen led by California’s Darrell Issa wrote in the letter. They also claim that the guideline prioritizes services for “chronically homeless adults” at the expense of families.

Housing First proponents counter that the approach still helps chronically homeless people get their lives in order, and does so more effectively because people in stable living conditions are better able to find work or kick addictions. “We know it works,” said Giselle Routhier of the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, arguing that the program ends up saving taxpayers money by doing a better job of keeping people out of temporary shelters, jails and hospitals.

House Republicans Want to Kill a Key Federal Housing Policy. City Hall Is Not Happy.

City Hall and several nonprofits defended Housing First, a federal policy guideline designed to help homeless people find housing, after 23 Republican lawmakers wrote a letter urging the Department of Housing and Urban Development to drop the policy.

“We fully support the homelessness prevention and rehousing approach underlying Housing First,” said a spokesperson for the New York City Human Resources Administration. “Without stable and appropriate supportive housing it becomes much more difficult for these individuals to consistently remain engaged in the health, mental health and other services they so desperately need, which will result in more people living on the streets.”

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