The Difficult PATH to Family Shelter

By Jorge Morera, Crisis Intervention counselor

Aside from the stress of losing one’s home, belongings and stability, homeless families have the added pressure of having to prove their “homelessness” in order to receive on-going shelter from the city.

Homeless families seeking shelter must apply at the Prevention Assistance & Temporary Housing (PATH) offices located in the Bronx. The PATH requires all homeless families to prove they have no other housing options available. DHS then performs an investigation to ensure there are indeed no other options. This “investigation” is the biggest flaw in the application process. PATH investigators do not conduct comprehensive assessments. Instead, they often focus their attention on any available housing the family may be able to access: How large is a family member’s home? Are there extra bedrooms in a friend’s apartment?

Obviously, there are many contributing factors that determine whether a family member or friend’s home is available to a homeless family. Factors such as: domestic violence, abuse, lease restrictions or child welfare matters among others. These are often overlooked in the investigation, and unfortunately, the system routinely denies families shelter, claiming that it has other housing available with families or even friends. Families in desperate need, knowing that they have no other options, are forced to track down proof, get certified letters stating that they are not allowed to stay with family, research public records and court cases to demonstrate that it would be an inappropriate living situation, and take other measures using precious time and money to support their case. Then, they must go through the application process again – sometimes multiple times. They spend days in the intake office hoping that this time, they have enough proof that they will finally get a shelter placement. Below is an example of an actual case which I have worked on recently.

Ms. G and child were consistently denied shelter because the PATH insists she can live with her mother who rents a two bedroom apartment. Ms. G had not lived with her mother since early childhood and informed PATH that she and her mother have a poor relationship. Within minutes of meeting Ms. G, I discovered that she was removed from the home as a child due to neglect, physical and sexual abuse. She had been placed in foster care and aged out of the system, never having been placed back in custody of her mother. Clearly, the mother’s home is an inappropriate location for Ms. G and child to reside. This information eventually helped the family prove they were truly homeless.

With all the risk factors involved, PATH must conduct better assessments of these cases or families will have to endure additional hardships during their greatest time of need. Until DHS steps up and begins performing real investigation, rather than making assumptions, the Coalition will continue to be there, challenging them, doing the leg work, and helping families with their application for shelter.

Dis-Advantage

Amid record family homelessness and high unemployment, the Bloomberg administration is putting thousands of formerly-homeless families at risk of returning to shelter by cutting them off from rental assistance under the City’s flawed Advantage program.

The Advantage program was started in 2007 and provides a maximum of 2 years of rental assistance, after which families are left to fend for themselves. City data show that the average working family placed on Advantage is making $9.50 an hour and working 32 hours a week–not nearly enough to afford rent in New York City’s exorbitantly priced housing market.

By the end of 2010, more than 7,400 formerly-homeless Advantage families will have lost their rental assistance and be at risk of re-entering the shelter system. By the end of 2011, more than 7,100 additional families will join them. In a grim picture of what may come, by October 2009, more than 900 re-applications for shelter had been filed by families previously on the Advantage program, representing as much as two-thirds of all expired Advantage families at that time.

Additionally, about half of the families whose subsidy will expire in the coming months are unable to work because of a disability or active child welfare case. They were originally put on Advantage with the promise of transitioning to a Section 8 voucher. Even before the Section 8 crisis in December 2009 that closed the program indefinitely, only 18 percent of these families had actually transitioned to a Section 8 voucher, leaving more than 80 percent of these families with no work income and a high rent burden.

We launched a campaign today to urge the Mayor to change this flawed policy by creating a longer-term, more flexible rent subsidy for families that effectively bridges the gap between income and rent. Please send a letter to the Mayor here!

And read our full report here.

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