There’s No Place Like Home

By Denise Joseph • May 5th, 2008 • Category: Public Affairs

           It has been three years since the passing of New York City’s five-year “action plan” announced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to end chronic homelessness and reduce the street population by two-thirds, all by April 2009. The results so far are mixed.   

        Mayor Bloomberg first attempt to eliminating homelessness was by forming a program called Housing Stability plus (HSP). It began paying rent subsidies to help shelter residents afford apartments. The program gives five years of assistance, but the catch is that in order to receive the aid, the state rules say, a family must also open a welfare case. Subsidies were available to adults working full or part time. He also expanded the earned income tax credit so that more people without children qualify for the break. The idea is to offer more incentives to work, particularly for noncustodial dads with difficulty paying child support, so people won’t have difficulty paying child support and so people don’t spend a lifetime depending on the welfare system. 

According to New York Magazine, HSP had faced frequent suspensions because the value of vouchers distributed to families declines by 20 percent a year and the program required that homeless families be on welfare. Such welfare disruptions automatically stop the city’s rent subsidy, which angers landlords. As a result, Housing stability plus fell by 14 percent in 2007.

Bloomberg’s second attempt was another program called Work Advantage Program. This program allows shelter residents to work and still receive benefits. It covers a full year’s rent and encourages recipients to work and save money while they try to attain independence. According to the Coalition of the Homeless, this program was equally flawed because it compounded some of the most glaring mistakes of the “housing stability plus” program where many vulnerable families will experience hardships and reoccurring episodes of homelessness in the same way. It also excluded the majority of homeless families who are employed and who are receiving public assistance benefits.

His administration spent $79 million for new tools and programs to solve the problem. A new computer system tracked which neighborhoods homeless people come from and how they stayed in the system, mimicking the compstat system that the police used to fight crime.  While the computer tracking system helped pinpoint the neighborhoods that homeless were most likely to come from, prevention programs have not been as successful as expected. Neighborhoods with such programs have seen slower increases but there’s an increase nonetheless.  Mr. Bloomberg, along with chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced a new subway and campaign urging New Yorkers inclined to help the homeless to call 311 rather than giving them money so that officials can dispatch the teams and place them in shelters immediately.

       According to the Department of Homeless Services, the amount of people living on the streets has decreased by 13 percent from last year. The department credited the decline to social service organizations that have started pooling resources to better identify and serve homeless people and to a shift in its own policies, including offering housing first, rather than making chronically homeless people come back repeatedly for myriad services before they have a place to live.

          But in the month of February 2007, the total of homeless families were 9, 287 and it was the highest the city had seen since 1979 according to the group, Coalition for the homeless. The total number of homeless families the year before was 7, 805. That’s a 17.6 percent increase! The number of homeless children in February 2006 was 11, 925 and went up to 18.1 percent by 2007, to 14,287.

              The number of homeless adults in city shelters has fallen noticeably since 2004, but the number of homeless families is at a record high. Roughly 31,500 men, women and children are living in the shelter system. When Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan in 2004, the number of homeless families was 8,850 and his goal was to lower that to 7,400 by this point.  “32,094 homeless being sheltered a night isn’t good enough. Long term help is needed” says Bloomberg.

 Each year 100,000 New Yorkers experience homelessness. Each night, over 38,000 homeless individuals sleep in the New York City shelter system. This includes more than 16,000 children and 8,000 single adults. Thousands more sleep on city streets and in other public places.

          “Usually the New York Rescue mission for men holds about 100 beds for the homeless each day” says Joseph little, a five year public relations manager at the rescue mission. “During the wintertime, we are authorized to open up the chapel because there is a high demand of beds needed.  If it’s your first time in the homeless shelter you are allowed one of the beds for seven straight nights without any questions asked but after that, you have to go through a lottery system.”


              There are many possible reasons as to why elimination of homelessness has not occurred in NYC. New York City has lost more than 200,000 private-sector jobs since January 2001. Although recent reports indicate a small increase in the number of jobs, most are in the lowest paying service sectors, such as restaurants and hotels. Another factor is the sharp decline in affordable housing. US census figures document a drop in the number of New York City apartments renting for under $500 a month in 1990 to 491,000 in 2000. Other statistics reveal a plummeting rate of new housing units completed in New York City, from an annual average of nearly 370,000 in the decade of the 1960s to just over 82,000 in the 1990s. Large portions of the units built in the last decades are far beyond the reach of the average worker. In addition, city and state authorities have been undermining the rent control laws, further pushing rents up. Workers employed in one of the low-wage industries unwillingly choose between paying the rent and feeding their families. Other possible reasons why individuals are at a high risk of being homeless could be poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, serious mental illness and disability, foster care background, prison discharge, family instability, high divorce rates, or domestic violence.

                   Every day in the United States, families and single adults who have never been homeless lose their housing and enter a shelter or find themselves on the streets. While there is major progress in reducing street homelessness in NYC, stark amounts of individuals remain on streets and in public spaces. There are approximately 90% of homeless New Yorkers who are black or Latino, although only 53% percent of New York City’s total population is black or Latino. According to 2006 survey, 3,843 homeless people calculated, compared to 4,295 over all in 2005. Manhattan had the most amounts of homeless people on the streets in this year, 1,021, and Queens had the fewest, 66. Brooklyn had 778, the Bronx had 551 and Staten Island had 211. The latest survey also found 1,216 homeless people in subway trains and stations.                     

                Homelessness has become a huge problem in NYC and vast programs are tempted to address and prevent homelessness in NYC. Bridge building is a program that provides one and two bedroom apartments for formerly homeless women.  It offers these women the secure, affordable housing that allows them to be reunited with their children who have been placed in foster care. The staff also works with tenants to further their education, search for new jobs, leading t financial independence. 

The rental assistance program helps single working adults and families who are homeless or at- risk of becoming homeless bridge the gap between their incomes and the cost of affordable apartments. They provide clients with a rental stipend of at least $200 per month, a maximum of $200 for singles and $300 for families for up to two years, while our case managers work with them to create and execute a plan for self sufficiency.

 Programs like the Coalition for the homeless offers crisis intervention, emergency cash assistance and case management, services to prevent eviction of people at risk of homelessness. Urban Pathways reaches out to homeless individuals taking shelter at transportation hubs in Manhattan, like the Port Authority building and places them into permanent housing. Bridge fund of New York City also extends loans and grants to prevent eviction of people experiencing temporary financial crisis. The Rescue Mission has a residential recovery program for men struggling with drugs or alcohol. It involves a twelve month program where those who graduate from it can gain an affordable apartment.

Other programs include Common grounds, Sanctuary for families and Bellevue/ NYU program for survivors of torture.          


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Denise Joseph is a junior at Hunter college in New York City. Her major is media arts and her minor is sociology. She was born and raised in Spanish Harlem and plans to live in Atlanta someday. She is currently 20 years old and plans to transfer to Andrews College in 2009. She is currently taking production classes so she can expand her skills in Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and Dreamweaver.
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