Once Upon A Time, Home Sweet Home
By Miriam Medina

Part II

Modern Homelessness 2007

The Homeless! A visible, persistent feature of urban life. Unkempt people dressed in tattered garments lugging all their worldly possessions in carts and shopping bags; rummaging through trash cans and dumpsters looking for food. They can be seen at the bus and train stations; under bridges; in the alleyways; in abandoned buildings; at burger joints; on cathedral steps; in abandoned cars; lying about on the streets, covered or enclosed in cardboard boxes, etc. You can even find them at the city's airports, though invisible among the masses of arriving and departing passengers... They just have nowhere to go.

 As the darkness of the night begins to set in, there is a mad rush for the park benches where these homeless wretches are looking for a place to sleep. For these people, finding shelter is becoming a more urgent necessity than food. When the weather or street life becomes unbearable, the temporary emergency shelters are their refuge. Only a couple of nights are permitted to each person, to avoid the risk of dependency, instead of relying on being self-sufficient. They line up by the thousands in front of the local shelters, which are already filled to capacity, turning most away. Sadly those who cannot find shelter are forced to return to the streets, where they will continue to be exposed to the dangers of physical violence, being attacked or killed by rats, severe elements of weather as well as  all other risks. There are just not enough beds or shelters to go around.

This diverse group of people, among which are the" young and old; black, white and Hispanic; male and female; the highly educated and illiterate; "are faced daily with the difficult task of finding food to eat, a safe place to sleep, maintaining personal hygiene, as well as securing some form of income, whether it be from collecting cans, selling whatever they could find, prostitution, fencing stolen goods or selling for drug dealers. For the drug users, their main concern is finding the next fix. Because of malnutrition, exposure to the severe elements of weather, and communicable diseases from the unsanitary conditions that they live in, the street homeless are frequently sick. The emergency rooms  and free care clinics  are filled with these needy individuals seeking free medical attention where most of them are given "low priority, unless critical."

There are many factors today that are placing individuals at a high risk of modern homelessness.

1. Large corporations in order to continue making a profit will down size or eliminate their manpower by shutting down facilities that are not productive. These financial upheavals throw multitudes into unemployment. As a result of these layoffs and rising costs, many have been pushed over the brink into homelessness.

2. For those who have been incarcerated and are discharged, employment is very difficult to find. Employers are hesitant about giving jobs to individuals with prison records.  Not only are they socially isolated from friends and family, they also have no resources to fall back on to pay for living expenses, which places them at a high risk of homelessness.

3. With the high cost of housing, it is getting more and more difficult for those of the poverty level income and working class to get a decent place to live. With the sluggish economy, any expectation of an increase in their wages is almost near to naught.

4. Disasters, man-made or natural causes have hurled families by the thousands into homelessness.

5. There are also included in this group the mentally ill, veterans, drug users, and alcoholics, which are in great need of medical and psychiatric care. These individuals that suffer from substance abuse, if not treated, will keep them from being self-sustained making it extremely difficult to move beyond homelessness.

6. Individuals with family problems, emotional difficulties, as well as those fleeing sexual, physical and mental abuse, often find themselves without a home. Many of them eventually succumb to drug addiction, prostitution and crime.

7. There is also another class of homeless individuals. These are the permanent ones that prefer the homeless lifestyle and have adapted themselves to it. They hate to work. Avoiding responsibilities, they much rather lie around being lazy living the life of a bum. They cherish their independence. They are not concerned with how they will  survive,  especially in a city like this where plenty of good food is thrown away every day, as well as the availability of hot goods and drugs  to sell. They are shrewd street businessmen. Somehow this type, always seem to fare better than those who are left homeless, by misfortune or by their own fault.

Most of the people who are homeless would rather not be. Interacting with each other may  bring some form of comfort, but it does not compensate the estrangement from their families and friends. The Department of Homeless Services in partnership with public and private agencies addresses these needs by providing outreach services to enable people to assume responsibility for achieving independent living.

Coalition for the Homeless has released a report analyzing the significant increase in family homelessness in New York City throughout 2006. Highlights of the report include the following:

 A.. Family homelessness in New York City has increased by 11 percent this year. The number of homeless families in shelters has risen nearly every month of 2006.

B.. The number of homeless NYC children has risen by 11 percent.

C.. The number of homeless families in shelters - currently more than 8,700 families - is the highest since November 2004.

D.. The number of homeless "adult families" (without minor children) has risen to all-time record levels.

E.. The City moved fewer homeless families into permanent housing this past fiscal year - 6,406 homeless families moved to subsidized housing in FY 2006, compared to 6,772 families moved in FY 2005, a 5.4 percent decrease.

F.. More New York City families entered the shelter system this past fiscal year - 11,082 new homeless families in FY 2006, compared to 10,616 new families in FY 2005, a 4.4 percent increase.

G.. In FY 2006, the City moved 5.4 percent fewer homeless families from shelters to subsidized housing than in FY 2005 - and 9.6 percent fewer families than in FY 2004.

H.. The Bloomberg Administration now relies almost entirely on the flawed "Housing Stability Plus" program to move homeless families from shelter into their own homes.

I.. In only its second year, the HSP program is providing permanent housing to 4.9 percent fewer families per month - HSP has aided an average of 359 families/month in 2006 compared to 377 families/month in 2005.

J.. Because of the flaws in the HSP program - including 20 percent annual reductions in rental assistance, and rules blocking families from working - many landlords refuse to accept the subsidy.

K.. In October 2004 the Bloomberg Administration announced that homeless families would no longer receive a priority for scarce Federal housing vouchers and public housing apartments.

L.. In September 2006, under new rules crafted by the Bloomberg Administration, homeless New Yorkers are no longer able even to submit an application for Federal housing vouchers.

M.. As a result, in the past year the number of homeless families helped by Federal housing programs plunged by 80.9 percent.

N.. A 2005 analysis by the NYC Independent Budget Office found that City spending on homelessness prevention has remained virtually flat since FY 2001.

O.. Between FY 2005 and FY 2006, the number of new homeless families entering the shelter system rose by 4.4 percent."
(4)

"The challenge facing both DHS and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is to reduce the number of chronically street homeless individuals by maximizing available resources and spearheading a plan to move these individuals into appropriate housing with access to social, medical and behavioral health services." (5)

Conclusion:

Homelessness today is a crisis to our nation. The efforts that the city of New York has been making is having a significant impact in helping homeless people. Though there are flaws in the city's programs, great progress has occurred in providing shelters, food, as well as medical and psychiatric care to needy individuals. New York City's expenditures on emergency shelter and homeless services have soared by 41.6 percent. During the current decade, the shortage of affordable housing has increased the city's homeless shelter population to an all-time record level. As long as there are inevitable circumstances that plague its citizens, homelessness will always be present as well as a "persistent, unpleasant visible feature of urban life."

Works Cited Page

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