Must-see Video: NYC’s Wrongful Denial of Shelter Forces Homeless Kids & Mom to Sleep at Penn Station

A stunning local TV news report shows how City officials’ wrongful denial of shelter forced a homeless mother and her two children to sleep at Penn Station. And as outrageous as the story is, it’s the sort of thing that happens every day under the Bloomberg administration’s shelter denial rules.

Last night WNBC News aired an investigation into the circumstances that forced April Gayles and her two children, ten-year-old Angelina and six-year-old Nicholas, to be repeatedly forced to sleep at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station train terminal:

It’s 8 p.m. on a school night – a time when 10-year-old Angelina and 6-year-old Nicholas Gayles should be finishing homework and preparing for bed. Instead, they are dragging suitcases along a city street looking for a place to stay.

Just moments earlier, the city informed their mother, April Gayles, that it would no longer provide them with shelter. The Gayles family has been through this before – three times now.

“Every time you feel frustrated because you don’t know why they keep doing it,” Angelina tells News 4 in an I-Team exclusive. “They’re the meanest people on earth.”

The ten-minute news clip, available here, should be required viewing for anyone interested in how the Bloomberg administration’s shelter denial rules are cutting off shelter and vital services to desperate children and adults every day. It’s one of those rare TV news investigations – like Sarah Wallace’s amazing WABC News report from last year – that not only illustrates the plight of homeless families wrongfully denied shelter, but delves into the mechanics of how City bureaucrats close the shelter door on needy families each day.

In the WNBC report, City officials repeatedly defend their denial of shelter to the Gayles family – but never once manage to refute the fundamental fact that the family had no other place to go, no other housing that was actually available and suitable. WNBC reporter Melissa Russo inexplicably calls the City’s defense of its actions “compelling,” but every one of the City’s claims falls apart, often right on camera.

– NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond says the family can live with a friend who kicked them out of her home. But a City bureaucrat later admits on camera that the friend told City investigators the Gayles family was not welcome in her home. And WNBC later confirmed a police report corroborating that fact.

– The news report includes a bewlildering montage of a dozen City bureaucrats essentially smearing and attacking Ms. Gayles, with unsubstantiated claims that she “missed appointments” or didn’t return phone calls, but it’s all an attempt to evade the fundamental fact that the family had no place to go.

– Finally, City officials make the inexplicable claim that they must deny shelter to families because, allegedly, so many families come to New York Cityseeking shelter – a ridiculous claim unsupported by the facts and bizarrely illustrated by some hyperbolic WNBC graphics. But City data has long shown that the vast majority of homeless families and individuals seeking help in the municipal shelter system previously resided at NYC addresses. And certainly Ms. Gayles did not come to NYC to enter the shelter system – she came with a Federal housing voucher seeking an apartment and stayed with a friend, becoming homeless only after being kicked out of her friend’s home and unable to find a suitable apartment to match her voucher.

– Ultimately, the City reversed its earlier and repeated denials of shelter and deemed Ms. Gayles and her kids “eligible” for shelter. But the fact remains that nothing changed from the moment the Gayles family first applied for shelter – they were just as homeless on day one, and City officials knew from day one that the family had no place to go. The only difference was a potentially embarrassing TV news investigation.

All in all, the Gayles family’s story is exactly what we see at Coalition for the Homeless walk-in Crisis Intervention Services every day – homeless children and families wrongfully denied shelter due to systematic bureaucratic errors and the City’s punitive shelter denial rules.

Last May, we released a briefing paper showing how the Bloomberg administration was turning away more families at the shelter door than ever before. Recent City data show that a bad situation has gotten even worse:

– In 2011 (through November), an average of 66 percent of all families seeking shelter each month was not deemed “eligible” by the Department of Homeless Services.

– In the last City fiscal year (FY 2011), nearly 44 percent of all homeless families with children who were ultimately deemed eligible for shelter had their applications denied one or more times.

Last year, we wrote that “Bloomberg administration officials have provided no explanation for why, in the midst of high unemployment and rising poverty, the City is denying shelter to more children and families than ever.” The same is true today. Hopefully the hardships endured by Ms. Gayles and her children will shed a spotlight on the Bloomberg administration’s harmful denial of shelter and help to some of New York’s most vulnerable families.

Sign our petition to tell Bloomberg to stop denying shelter to needy families.

Leave a Reply