Mayor de Blasio: 62,000 New Yorkers Need Homes!

New York City is in the midst of the worst homelessness crisis since the Great Depression, with more than 62,000 people – including nearly 24,000 children – sleeping in shelters each night. In order to match the unprecedented need, the City must employ every available affordable housing resource. To start, it should double the number of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments it allocates for homeless families each year.

Sign our petition to urge Mayor de Blasio to increase the number of public housing placements for homeless families from 1,500 per year to 3,000 per year!

Coalition Testifies on Homeless Services Reforms

On Thursday, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare regarding the status of reforms to the Department of Homeless Services and actions needed to address near-record homelessness. The hearing provided an opportunity for DSS Commissioner Steven Banks to provide the Committee with an update regarding the City’s progress in implementing the 46 reforms identified in April 2016 following a comprehensive 90-day review of homeless services. The reforms spanned the categories of prevention, street homelessness, shelter, and rehousing. One year later, some progress has been made, but many issues remain unresolved.

As the Coalition and The Legal Aid Society testified:

In response to the reforms announced in April 2016 and the new plan released this past February, we note the following concerns:

  • Housing Placements: Despite policy changes made by the de Blasio administration to reopen access to NYCHA public housing, Section 8 vouchers, and City-funded subsidies for homeless individuals and families in shelters, the amount of permanent, affordable housing made available to homeless households is still not sufficient to make up for the Lost Decade in which the prior Administration denied access to NYCHA and Section 8 for homeless families, let alone meet the current need. More families are now receiving stable housing placements than any year since 2005, but the number of NYCHA public housing apartments, Section 8 vouchers, and HPD apartments remains below the level needed to make a real dent in homelessness. Our specific recommendations for housing placement goals are outlined below.
  • Intake and Eligibility: We are extremely concerned about the recent dramatic decline in the percentage of families found eligible for shelter after enduring an already-onerous application process. In February 2017, the eligibility rate was just 37.6 percent, down from 46.6 percent in January and from 51.6 percent in February of 2016. The eligibility rate has not been this low since 2012. This disturbing trend is combined with and related to the increasing percentage of families erroneously found ineligible and forced to repeat the application process multiple times before ultimately being found eligible. These needless bureaucratic barriers do not solve homelessness and demonstrably increase the trauma inflicted on homeless families – mostly mothers and children. In addition, the administration has yet to implement recommendation #29 from the 90-day review, which would align the adult family intake process with procedures for families with children. Adult families continue to face many unlawful and unnecessary barriers to shelter entry, and their higher rates of disability present even further obstacles for an extremely fragile population.
  • Mental Health and Medical Needs: A significant number of homeless single adults have serious medical and/or mental health needs. Homeless adults are assigned to either a general population shelter or a specialized shelter, depending on their circumstances. However, specialized shelters for those with mental health and medical needs are struggling to adequately address such needs and have difficulty securing more appropriate permanent housing placements. As the shelter system becomes a last resort for many low-income individuals discharged from hospitals, nursing homes, or psychiatric facilities, far too many find themselves without access to proper health and mental health care.

We commend the administration’s efforts to end the use of cluster sites and hotels – stated as one of the primarily goals of the Mayor’s new plan – and support the goal of creating a shelter system that reduces community displacement and trauma for families who lose their homes. However, we believe a far more robust effort is needed to provide enough affordable housing for homeless individuals and families to meet the tremendous scale of need. Homelessness cannot be solved without recognition that the City cannot solve its homeless crisis without making up for the Lost Decade of NYCHA and Section 8 placements and add far more affordable housing targeted to homeless households. This obvious history and readily available remedy has been ignored in the Mayor’s new plan.

The Coalition also testified in support of Intro 1443, which would require more shelter staff to be trained in lifesaving opioid antagonists.

The full testimony can be read here.

Today’s Read: A Compassionate Response to Homelessness

Although permanent housing is the solution to homelessness, shelters are a necessary immediate resource for men, women, and children who find themselves in urgent need of a safe place to sleep. Thanks to landmark litigation brought by the Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates, New York City has a legal right to shelter for anyone who is homeless. This is why we don’t have massive tent encampments like those visible in many other large cities – and why 24,000 NYC children won’t face the grim fate of sleeping on city streets tonight. However, as rents skyrocket citywide and more individuals and families are pushed out of the housing market and into homelessness, the City has often met resistance in opening shelters needed to meet unprecedented demand.

During the contentious debates surrounding the establishment of shelters, it’s far too easy to lose sight of the very New Yorkers who would be sleeping in proposed shelters. Most are families, and about a third are employed – hardworking men and women who simply can’t make ends meet in the city’s high-priced rental market. Many are fleeing domestic violence. Nearly 24,000 are children, who need to be placed in shelters close to their schools and social supports so the trauma of homelessness isn’t compounded by hours-long commutes to class or the stress of switching schools entirely. Others are single adults struggling with health problems or disabilities, who need support rather than scorn.

Notably, several communities and elected leaders have recognized that homeless New Yorkers should be treated with kindness. The Coalition presented Kensington/Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, with our inaugural Compassionate Communities Award this winter for their warm welcome of and ongoing partnership with a new family shelter in their neighborhood.

Similarly, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams recently shared his thoughts on the opening of more shelters in an insightful blog post, in which he recalled his own housing instability as a child and, in acknowledgement of his mother’s wise counsel, encouraged Brooklynites to come together and support their homeless neighbors:

As a former police officer, I have long advocated that it is not only the job of the NYPD to make our communities safe. I have also stated that it is not solely the role of ACS to fight child abuse. The community “at large” must do their share with these important initiatives.

This also is true for the homeless issue. City Hall has their part to play but we, the community, are also charged with a critical role. We must come up with a supportive plan, and throwing a “rock” of disagreement is not a plan.

The elder who was forced out of her home due to increased rents, and in some cases bad-acting landlords, was the woman that used to babysit our children. The unemployed male who stands on the corner at Bedford and Atlantic Avenues was the same child that once played Little League Baseball alongside us. The woman with three children who can’t find a landlord to take her Section 8 voucher was once the cute little girl with ribbons in her hair who attended our church service. These are not strangers in our midst; these are our brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times.

I want to use this as a moment to change the conversation on homelessness. Instead of saying “we don’t want them here,” I want to move towards “adopting” shelters. My call is for people of faith to invite homeless families to our houses of worship. High school and college students can show shelter residents how to fill out the forms to get their Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and other documents needed for education and employment. Block associations and civic groups can embrace these sites and help integrate them into the activities of an inviting community. Those of us who have professional skills can assist and instruct. For our way-too-large population of homeless children, we can provide tutoring services so they can be ready for college. Our neighbors who have fallen on hard times can use basic sanitary items such as soap, socks and undergarments; when we go shopping for ourselves, how about adding an extra item for someone in need?

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