Yesterday, the Commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, Robert Hess, announced his resignation. His replacement, announced by the Mayor, will be Seth Diamond, who has been working in the Human Resources Administration. His initial statements seem to promote a punitive-style approach to homelessness–one that calls back to the days of former Mayor Giuliani and views homelessness as solely a problem of homeless families’ unwillingness to work.
We, at the Coalition, are frankly concerned that at a time of double digit unemployment and record breaking family homelessness the Bloomberg administration is turning to someone who seems to see homelessness more as a character flaw instead of the inevitable result of low wages, no jobs and high rents.
Diamond talks about incentivizing work, but according to the City’s own data, even working homeless families earn less than $300 per week — far too little to afford housing. And many more homeless parents and individuals have lost jobs in the current historic economic crisis. The new commissioner’s get tough mentality is totally out of touch with how hard the recession is continuing to devastate families and entire neighborhoods across this city.
What we need now more than ever, is an approach that helps families bridge the gap between their incomes and the rents required to live in New York City. What we need are long-term solutions to the problems of low wages and a lack of affordable housing, not policies that punish families for being homeless (i.e. charging rent for shelter or ejecting families from shelter).