October 4, 2019
Homeless people are not a commodity. I never thought I would have to say those words, yet with 62,333 children becoming homeless since 2011, and more than 250,000 New Yorkers in homeless shelters or on the streets, it must be said.
The ugly truth is that the homeless crisis keeps growing because shelters are a business and, as long as the crisis gets worse, business is good.
This doesn’t mean that many people in the shelter business don’t care about their clients, or diligently to help people get back on their feet.
However, non-profits that run these facilities are required to use any surplus revenues to reduce clients’ length of stay in shelter and help them find housing. And that is simply not happening.
The average length of shelter stays has increased, as has the rate of clients subsequently returning after leaving. And many non-profits pay exorbitant salaries to their executives, which often include multiple members of the same family.
There are shelters I have seen that can only be described as Third World, with disgraceful conditions, abusive security and people working as virtual indentured servants.
In certain shelters, homeless people are charged rent and other fees, required to do maintenance work on the shelter facilities and clean the streets, services for which the non-profit receives taxpayer-funded payments. If people do not comply, they are kicked out. Some non-profit facilities even ration toilet paper, among many other indignities forced upon their clients.
Shelters, both the good and horrifically bad, have grown by leaps and bounds with an increase of 32,899 shelter beds, a 66.5% spike, since 2011.
New York City alone has increased its budget for sheltering the homeless to over $2 billion a year. Other cities and counties throughout the state spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on shelters. Taxpayers take financial hits for other associated costs including emergency rooms, law enforcement, housing courts and other services.
Consider this: Back in 1986, the man who would become our governor, Andrew Cuomo, created a homeless shelter organization called HELP USA; it is now run by his sister. And Cuomo, through overt government action and intentional inaction, is effectively guaranteeing the continued growth of homelessness.
How? Two years ago, and again in 2019, the state Senate and Assembly each included a rent supplement in their proposed budget resolutions. This would decrease the homeless population and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
A rent supplement was the successful policy response to the Great Depression, under which government paid the rents of individuals and families receiving public assistance. It is needed now because people on public assistance may receive a maximum shelter allowance of just $447 per month. No one can find or keep suitable housing for that amount.
Even though both houses of the Legislature included a rent supplement to close the gap between the woefully inadequate shelter allowance and actual housing costs, the governor has shot this idea down, twice. Cuomo would only agree to allow a pilot program to assist 240 New Yorkers. To this day, not a single person has received any assistance because the governor refuses to release the money budgeted for that pilot.
The rent supplement is supported by 124 Assembly members, 34 state senators, 11 members of the U.S. Congress, 46 City Council members including the speaker, four borough presidents, Mayor de Blasio, the city controller and 134 advocacy groups and organizations throughout the state.
Cuomo’s surrogates argue that the governor is investing in affordable and supportive housing, suggesting that we should build a new home for everyone who becomes homeless. Considering the scope of the crisis, that argument is absurd.