City in Need: New York’s homeless struggle

bowery mission thanksgiving
A volunteer hands out hot beverages to people waiting in the cold for a Thanksgiving meal outside the Bowery Mission in 2012. (Credit: Danielle Tcholakian)

In answer to a recent question from a reporter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there are no homeless people sleeping on the street.

The backlash was immediate: people were quick to point out that even by the city’s own estimates, there are more than 3,000 New Yorkers sleeping on the streets and in the subway.

But the comment was made in the context of victims of Hurricane Sandy, and in the context of a longer answer, wherein the mayor said the city’s goal is to make sure that people who most need housing and shelter services get those services.

However, according to Patrick Markee at the Coalition for the Homeless, the city regularly does not practice this philosophy, as public housing priority actually is not given to the neediest New Yorkers.

“What the city used to do is give priorities to homeless families — the groups [getting priority] now are the least poor of the poor,” Markee said.

There are approximately 180,000 NYCHA public housing units in New York City, and Markee said that prior to Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, homeless families were given priority for some of those units.

A priority list provided by NYCHA showed that first priority goes to referrals from other city agencies, which would mean the individuals have already gone through the intake system of those various agencies. Second priority goes to domestic violence victims and intimidated witnesses; and third to those who have been ordered by the government to vacate spaces declared uninhabitable or needed for public housing or “public improvement.”

Fourth and last priority is people living in substandard conditions: the homeless or involuntarily displaced — evicted, for example — or people living in over-crowded public or private housing.

Heather Janik at the Department of Homeless Services said there are 164,000 households on the waiting list for public housing, which is the equivalent of a more than seven-year waiting list.

A major problem, Markee said, is that there is simply not enough affordable housing to go around.

According to Markee, investing in permanent housing resources could minimize street homelessness and lessen the burden on city shelters in a matter of months.

Outreach this Saturday with Bowery Mission
Trinity Baptist Church at 250 East 61st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues
- volunteer training starts at 3pm
- covering 23rd Street to 110th Street from 5th Avenue to the FDR
RSVP at www.dontwalkby.org

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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