Today’s Read: Long Nights With Little Sleep for Homeless Families Seeking Shelter

A new policy brief by the Coalition highlights the current homelessness crisis for single adults, but the situation is similarly dire for the homeless families that make up more than three-quarters of the shelter population.

As more New Yorkers grapple with the yawning gap between high rents and stagnant wages, thousands of families have nowhere to turn except the shelter system. Furthermore, the number of families seeking shelter tends to surge in the summer, between school years. The ongoing capacity crunch in family shelters has sent ripples of dysfunction throughout the system, starting with days-long waits at the front door. New York Times reporter Nikita Stewart shared the ordeal of several homeless families applying for shelter at the PATH intake center in the Bronx.

In a cascade of good intentions and unintended consequences, homeless parents and their children are facing dayslong waits and sleepless nights as they flood the city’s already overwhelmed homeless services.

Under a 1999 law that was supposed to give homeless families dignity and relief, parents and children seeking shelter are not allowed to sleep at the center. Instead, those still in the process of applying for housing at 10 p.m. must be given beds for the night. The city must also transport them to and from wherever they sleep so families can continue the application process the next morning.

But with 12,913 families in homeless shelters, which is also a record, and the city trying to avoid giving them “overnights” twice in a row, New York has created a bureaucracy of sleep that, paradoxically, keeps many families from getting any rest. Some yellow school buses transporting them to shelters leave the PATH center as late as 4 a.m. People who are loaded onto them then are bused back two hours later so they can be seen by 11 a.m., before a new wave of families arrives.

As a result, overnight shelter has come to mean a few hours — or mere minutes — in a bed. Parents must haul suitcases, strollers and their children into the intake center, onto the bus, into the temporary shelter, back onto the bus and back to the PATH center.

Both the City and State must take actions to increase housing-based solutions for homeless families that match the scale of the current crisis. These include utilizing a greater share of critical federal resources such as public housing and Section 8, as well as setting aside more City-funded affordable housing managed by HPD for homeless families. Read this year’s State of the Homeless for actions the City and State must take to jointly address the ongoing homelessness crisis among families and single adults.