The following is my perspective regarding the family homelessness crisis.
In New York City, the most vulnerable population among the homeless are the children and teenagers attending New York City public schools. Young adults, teenagers, and children make up the largest portion of the homeless population and it is estimated the number of children living in family shelters will exceed 23,000 by the end of 2019. The children living in homeless shelters today could be the CUNY students of tomorrow. Education is the only option to escape the cycle of poverty.
Every night approximately 66,000 people sleep in homeless shelters. Presently 23,000 children (children defined as anyone under 18 years of age) reside in New York City Family Shelters and attend New York City public school.
Being homeless creates unnecessary stress for everyone in a household especially the children attending school. Most households are usually confined to live in one room and deal with strict curfews on every daily activity. Many households are displaced far away from the neighborhoods they once called home, causing them to commute for hours to get to school leading to excessive lateness and missed school days. A family shelter can have a variety of residents some mentally unstable, creating a caustic mix and dangerous living environment. From my perspective and homeless experience the screening process for DHS needs serious improvement.
The average stay for a family in a homeless shelter is one year plus, however, many households reside in temporary facilities for years, and many children have never lived anywhere else. Thanks to unaffordable housing and vast income inequality, living in a homeless shelter has become a way of life for tens of thousands of New Yorkers
Learning about homelessness was first-hand while living in 5 of the worst homeless shelters in Brooklyn, Queens, lower Manhattan, and 3 hotels. My children and I were part of the family homeless population in New York City from 2012- 2017. But I was determined to make the best of a bad situation, and sometimes it was awful livving in a homeless shelter. For five years, we lived in a nomadic state with my family, mostly assuming a double-life because we didn’t want anyone to know we were homeless, where I worked and where my children went to school. I made it a point to chronicle every moment with 2 cell phones and 2 cameras. Digital devices allowed me to capture a lifestyle unexplored by most, and the entire experience provided the opportunity to understand how we all live on the cusp of homelessness, just one paycheck away. The experience changed my family and me.
I discovered multiple challenges associated with living in a homeless shelter; especially for the children I encountered daily. Each child was unique, beautiful, innocent, deserving of a space to call their own. Shelter life was already impacting many of them, and some suffered the tragic outcomes of abuse. Many of the children and teenagers I met (and there were hundreds) were struggling to finish high school although they wanted to; they became victims to circumstances beyond their control, a failed school system. Everywhere they turned, some part of a more extensive system was failing them. It was the most traumatic part of living in a homeless shelter for me.
The City of New York and the State continue to pay contracted not-for-profit and non-profit vendors, hotels, and landlords of scatter sites millions of dollars each month to provide sub-standard housing to the homeless. New York City pays $3,000.00 for individuals and $4,000.00 and up per homeless family monthly. It would be sensible and less costly to place families in an apartment but sheltering the homeless is a deeply rooted, politically connected, and corrupt option that pays the landlords, hotels, and vendors almost double the market rate rent. For decades, New York City has lost generations of families to the senseless greed and systematic abuse courtesy of the family homeless shelters. Rent burdened households flock to a thriving shelter system that earns millions off the backs of low-income households. Every year access to affordable housing declines leaving unaffordable options or homelessness as a choice.