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.