Debunking the Myths about Charging Homeless Families Rent for Shelter

misinformed blog in the Huffington Post by Covenant House executive director, Jerome Kilbane fails to address the reality of the City’s plan to charge homeless families rent for shelter. Kilbane praises charging rent as a way to save for independent living and to teach homeless families the valuable skills of financial planning.

Unfortunately Kilbane’s article overlooks several key points in the City’s plan to charge homeless families rent for shelter.

1) The proposed rent payments are not “modest.” The city has proposed that families pay up to $926 a month to stay in a homeless shelter. In many cases, if they could afford this, they wouldn’t be in a homeless shelter.

2) Families will absolutely not get any of their money back upon their exit from shelter so the “rent” will in no way help them save for independent living. Moreover the money will do nothing to solve the City or State’s budget woes, so it is essentially an exercise in throwing away perfectly good money that could help alleviate the poverty faced by homeless families.

3) If homeless families do not comply with the new “rent” rules, they could be ejected from shelter to the streets. Subsequently, their children could be placed in foster care–causing both emotional trauma for families and an unnecessary tax burden on New Yorkers. This type of punitive system does nothing to encourage or teach families about “opening a bank account, keeping a checkbook, and maintaining a budget.”

4) Homeless families do not simply need lessons in budgeting. When your monthly income is $1200 a month before taxes and your rent is $1100, no amount of budgeting or number crunching will make this a feasible payment. What most homeless families need is a stable and sufficient housing subsidy to help them bridge the gap between their income and rent.

We would not dispute that financial planning and building savings are in fact good things for homeless families to learn and do. Indeed, these are especially important for the population that Mr. Kilbane serves–homeless youth. However, the Mayor’s plan to charge rent for shelter accomplishes neither of these goals and would only work to keep families in shelter longer and prevent them from building any savings for when they exit.