The birth of a new child is supposed to be a joyful time for a family. But last year, 1,164 newborns were brought “home” from the hospital to a NYC shelter – meaning a shocking 1 out of every 100 babies born in the city is homeless. The lack of affordable housing has pushed tens of thousands of New Yorkers into homelessness, with 22,511 children sleeping in shelters each night. Research shows that the stress and instability of homelessness can have lasting ramifications for young children.
These tragic figures underscore that record homelessness constitutes nothing less than a humanitarian crisis. It is the moral duty of all levels of government to use every tool at their disposal to address homelessness – both by preventing people from having to enter shelters in the first place, and by moving people out of shelters into permanent, affordable homes of their own as quickly as possible. In a city as wealthy as ours, no child should spend their first days, months, or years of life in a shelter. That’s why the House Our Future NY campaign is calling for Mayor de Blasio to set aside 10 percent of his 300,000-unit Housing New York 2.0 plan for homeless New Yorkers – 30,000 units, with 24,000 units to be created through new construction.
In a striking profile for The New York Times, Nikita Stewart follows the Sanchez family as they grapple with homelessness and give birth to their son Antonio. The photos and article are a vivid reminder of the face of homelessness – and the urgent need for solutions:
A woman becomes pregnant, and suddenly, the two-bedroom apartment she is sharing with her family becomes too small. Faced with added responsibility once the baby is born, she falls behind on bills and rent. Family tensions rise. She argues with parents or with her partner. She may become a victim of domestic violence. Too often, she ends up moving into a shelter and so does her child.
Steven Banks, the city’s commissioner of social services, said infants are often “the tipping point” for families on the verge of losing a permanent home. “The main driver of homelessness, irrespective of pregnancy, is the gap between rent and income,” he said. “However, the birth of a new child is a background factor.”
When Antonio was a week old, he was one of 11,234 children under 6 living in a shelter system that houses about 60,000 people daily. There were 1,164 children born into the shelter system last year, up from 877 in 2015, according to data obtained by the Coalition for the Homeless.
The lack of money is exacerbated when a child is born, and can have an even greater impact on homeless mothers. Several studies have shown that homeless pregnant women experience high rates of depression.
A 2011 study of homelessness in 31 cities, including New York, showed that infants born to homeless mothers are at greater risk of longer stays in the hospital. Children begin to show signs of emotional problems and developmental delays by 18 months. They also have poorer nutrition and go to fewer preventive medical appointments, including for vaccinations, according to the study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The article also conveys how desperately the Sanchez family – and so many others in the shelter system – want to find a permanent home.
[Shimika Sanchez] rocked Antonio and kissed him until he fell asleep, limp in her arms. In about a month, she announced, she planned to return to work.
“I’ll make sure before you turn 1 we’re out of here. All of us,” she told a sleeping Antonio. “We’ll bust out together.”