Today’s Read: Homeless From Birth

The birth of a new child is supposed to be a joyful time for a family. But last year, 1,164 newborns were brought “home” from the hospital to a NYC shelter – meaning a shocking 1 out of every 100 babies born in the city is homeless. The lack of affordable housing has pushed tens of thousands of New Yorkers into homelessness, with 22,511 children sleeping in shelters each night. Research shows that the stress and instability of homelessness can have lasting ramifications for young children.

These tragic figures underscore that record homelessness constitutes nothing less than a humanitarian crisis. It is the moral duty of all levels of government to use every tool at their disposal to address homelessness – both by preventing people from having to enter shelters in the first place, and by moving people out of shelters into permanent, affordable homes of their own as quickly as possible. In a city as wealthy as ours, no child should spend their first days, months, or years of life in a shelter. That’s why the House Our Future NY campaign is calling for Mayor de Blasio to set aside 10 percent of his 300,000-unit Housing New York 2.0 plan for homeless New Yorkers – 30,000 units, with 24,000 units to be created through new construction.

In a striking profile for The New York Times, Nikita Stewart follows the Sanchez family as they grapple with homelessness and give birth to their son Antonio. The photos and article are a vivid reminder of the face of homelessness  – and the urgent need for solutions:

A woman becomes pregnant, and suddenly, the two-bedroom apartment she is sharing with her family becomes too small. Faced with added responsibility once the baby is born, she falls behind on bills and rent. Family tensions rise. She argues with parents or with her partner. She may become a victim of domestic violence. Too often, she ends up moving into a shelter and so does her child.

Steven Banks, the city’s commissioner of social services, said infants are often “the tipping point” for families on the verge of losing a permanent home. “The main driver of homelessness, irrespective of pregnancy, is the gap between rent and income,” he said. “However, the birth of a new child is a background factor.”

When Antonio was a week old, he was one of 11,234 children under 6 living in a shelter system that houses about 60,000 people daily. There were 1,164 children born into the shelter system last year, up from 877 in 2015, according to data obtained by the Coalition for the Homeless.

The lack of money is exacerbated when a child is born, and can have an even greater impact on homeless mothers. Several studies have shown that homeless pregnant women experience high rates of depression.

A 2011 study of homelessness in 31 cities, including New York, showed that infants born to homeless mothers are at greater risk of longer stays in the hospital. Children begin to show signs of emotional problems and developmental delays by 18 months. They also have poorer nutrition and go to fewer preventive medical appointments, including for vaccinations, according to the study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The article also conveys how desperately the Sanchez family – and so many others in the shelter system – want to find a permanent home.

[Shimika Sanchez] rocked Antonio and kissed him until he fell asleep, limp in her arms. In about a month, she announced, she planned to return to work.

“I’ll make sure before you turn 1 we’re out of here. All of us,” she told a sleeping Antonio. “We’ll bust out together.”

Baby Antonio: 5 Pounds, 12 Ounces and Homeless From Birth

BABY ANTONIO was born homeless.

He arrived at 12:29 a.m. on a warm Thursday in August. He was purple and perfectly formed, weighing all of 5 pounds and 12 ounces. He stretched his tiny arms and legs into the air as hospital staff hovered over him to count 10 toes and 10 fingers. His skin turned from purple to a light brown, and he cried, knowing nothing about his world.

There is a picture of homelessness etched in public perception: a solitary, disheveled man, begging on a crowded sidewalk, holding a cardboard sign. But the largest single population in New York City’s shelter system is children under the age of 6.

Council Member Salamanca Stands With Homeless Advocates and Introduces New Bill Demanding More Housing for the Homeless

NEW YORK – At today’s City Council Stated Meeting, Council Member Salamanca will introduce a new bill that would require developers who receive city financial assistance for rental housing development projects to set aside no less than 15% of created or preserved dwelling units for homeless individuals and families. This morning, he was joined by Council Members Levin, Gibson and Williams, Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier, VOCAL-NY Community Leader Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, WIN CEO Christine Quinn, Acacia Network CEO Raul Russi, Housing Works Vice President of Community Mobilization Jaron Benjamin, and others, rallying support for more housing for the homeless.

Our City is at a critical juncture.Since 2014, the number of homeless people in NYC shelters has stagnated around the 60,000+ figure. It is clear that we need legislation that could actually be effective citywide and I believe that mandating a 15% set aside has the potential to drastically alter the grim reality for so many. We have the opportunity to change the course for homeless New Yorkers and those on the brink of homelessness and we need to act now,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. “I thank the Speaker and Council Member Levin for their support and the incredible work and advocacy of organizations like Coalition for the Homeless, VOCAL-NY, WIN, Acacia, Housing Works and others, who have been persistent in their fight.”

“Homelessness is one of the biggest issues we are grappling with as a city, and we need an all hands on deck approach towards solving it. Developers who receive taxpayer funds must be part of the solution, which is why I support increasing the number of units they are required to build for homeless New Yorkers,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.

“If we truly want to help homeless New Yorkers and put them on the path to permanency, we must prioritize it in the city’s housing plan and increase the affordable housing set-aside,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “This is one of the most effective commitments we can make as a city to begin to end the homelessness crisis right now and as council members we have the power to lead on securing housing for underserved New Yorkers. It’s simple — let’s rely less on shelters and more on providing housing to those without homes. I applaud Council Member Salamanca for his continued advocacy to house our most vulnerable and I look forward to working with him to move this legislation forward.”

“Almost a month ago, I confronted Mayor de Blasio at the Park Slope YMCA to demand housing for homeless New Yorkers. Last week, I joined hundreds of people as we marched to Gracie Mansion. Our campaign has touched New Yorkers across the city, but it’s time for this fight to be over. It’s simple: the Mayor’s housing plan should help the people of New York who need the most help. If the Mayor refuses to do what’s right, then other leaders will fight for us,” said Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, community leader at VOCAL-NY. “I’m so grateful that Council Member Salamanca is sticking up for me and the 62,000 others living in shelters. I know that with his support and the support of Speaker Johnson and Council Member Levin, steps will finally be made to end this historic homeless crisis. This is a fight we need to win.”

“Council Member Salamanca’s legislation would provide a critical tool to help meet the desperate need for homeless housing in New York City, and go a long way toward realizing the House our Future NY Campaign’s goal of setting aside 30,000 units of the Mayor’s housing plan for homeless New Yorkers, including 24,000 units to be created through new construction. Mayor de Blasio’s stubborn opposition to doing more for the homeless flies in the face of his professed progressive values, at a time when we are losing more of the city’s most affordable units than we are building. We thank Council Member Salamanca, Council Member Levin, Speaker Johnson, and the entire Council for their strong advocacy on behalf of homeless New Yorkers,” said Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at the Coalition for the Homeless.

“The skyrocketing cost of living in New York City has forced thousands of New York’s lowest-income families out of their homes and into the shelter system,” said Christine C. Quinn, President and CEO of Win, the largest provider of shelter and support services to women and families in New York City. “I’m proud to stand with Council Member Salamanca today on behalf of mothers and children in shelter seeking permanent, affordable housing – many of whom are employed but whose low-wage jobs leave them unable to afford the steep cost of rent in New York City. There is more work to be done until every homeless family leaves the shelter and stays out, but this legislation will provide a critical lifeline to families struggling to break the cycle of homelessness.”

“As New York City’s largest homeless provider, serving approximately 4,500 families and individuals experiencing homelessness, Acacia Network is at the forefront in the fight against homelessness. One of the main reasons for homelessness is lack of affordable housing. As a provider and developer of affordable and supportive housing, Acacia’s knows both sides of the equation. While New York City’s upper market development thrives, we need the same broad based commitment to building more affordable housing for lower and middle-income individuals and families. We applaud the commitment to set-aside dwelling units for homeless individuals and families as we all work to address the needs of our city’s most vulnerable residents,” said Acacia Network CEO Raul Russi.

“Our NYC housing crisis is the worst it has been since the Great Depression, and no one has been hit by it harder than low-income New Yorkers,” said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, one of New York’s largest AIDS-service organizations. “Given this dire, ongoing state of emergency, it’s essential that all housing plans—from the Mayor’s 300,000-unit Housing NY 2.0 plan to this legislation from the City Council—not only reflect developers’ desire to rake in a tidy profit, but also address this chasm of unmet housing needs of ordinary citizens. Our housing plans must reserve a substantial number of viable living spaces for the most vulnerable, working poor among us, and they need to be genuinely affordable. From that stable foundation, all of life’s other critical needs can begin to get addressed. That’s what we mean at Housing Works when we say housing is health care.”

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