Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From Shelter to Affordable Housing: A GREAT FIRST STEP!

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy

NYC’s New Rental Programs to Transition Families Experiencing Homelessness

Last year Bill de Blasio famously campaigned successfully to become Mayor of New York City on the “Tale of Two Cities.” He spoke about the tragedy of low income people unable to get by or even find barely affordable housing in the U.S.’s biggest city. He promised, and along with City Council is now delivering, programs created to provide affordable housing and to address the expanding crisis of homelessness in our city.

In addition to more and better programs to prevent evictions and homelessness (the best solution to homelessness is always prevention), the City has launched programs including priority targeting of a small number of NYCHA public housing units to families in the city homeless shelter system and three rental programs to provide partial subsidies to a modest number of homeless families in city homeless or domestic violence shelters if they can find a low rent apartment to accept the subsidy. Of course we wish each of the programs could be larger and open to more people, but we are grateful and celebrate these great first steps.

One concern we do have, and no doubt city policymakers share, is the difficulty many of the eligible and chosen families now in shelter will have in finding an appropriate and affordable housing unit even with the city’s subsidy “certificate.” The way it work is those who get the certificate letter have 90 days to use it to find housing.

But there still won’t be enough units to go around. Too many families experiencing homelessness and in shelter will find even with their certificate they may still be unable to obtain housing. A recent Community Services Society study found a need (demand) for well over a million units affordable to people with incomes below 200% of poverty, but a supply of only 609,700 units and falling.

We see and live this problem every day because Care for the Homeless serves dozens of people experiencing homelessness every day who are desperately seeking housing and cannot find it. That’s one reason the average length of stay at city homeless shelters is now over 14 months.

It’s also a reason Care for the Homeless continues to advocate for programs to adequately serve homeless people, tools to help people move from shelter to permanent housing and a greater supply of housing affordable to extremely low income families and individuals so those tools can work effectively.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

HUD Reports 1 in 10 People Experiencing Homelessness in U.S. Is Living in NYC

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released its “2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress” estimating 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness either on the streets or in shelters on a given night in January, 2014. The information wasn’t surprising or really new, but it underscores the need to prevent, fight and end homelessness in New York City.

New HUD Secretary Julian Castro pointed out the report indicates a reduction in homelessness across the U.S. of 10% since January of 2010. Unfortunately New York City hasn’t fared as well.

The HUD report estimates 80,590 people experiencing homelessness in the Empire State on that January evening – about 13% of the entire national estimate – representing a 4.1% year-over-year increase and a 28.7% increase over the last seven years.  HUD reported 67,810 people experiencing homelessness just in New York City, meaning more than 1 in every 10 person experiencing homelessness on HUD’s census night was in our city. That’s a 6% increase in New York City from HUD’s 2013 estimate.

One encouraging thing for New York City was HUD’s finding that we had among the lowest rates of “unsheltered homeless people” at 5%, so that 19 of every 20 homeless people in New York City aren’t living unsheltered on the streets or in other public places.

CFH believes poor policies created modern day homelessness and better policy choices can help end it. Though homelessness continues to grow in New York City (up about 9% so far in 2014), we celebrate programs launched by the city administration and City Council to fight that trend. We won’t see much statistical improvement until these programs have the opportunity to get up and running, but here are five great first steps the city has launched:
  1. The Mayor and City Council increased city anti-eviction and homelessness prevention programs (the best way to fight homelessness is to prevent it) by 50%.
  2. The city reinstated NYCHA’s historic priority of a small number of newly available public housing units targeted to people in homeless shelter.
  3. The city launched three separate “Living in the Communities” (LINC) programs estimated to eventually provide rental subsidy “certificate letters” to about 3,000 households. The programs are targeted to 1. ) homeless families with children in family shelter with a working adult; 2.) homeless families in shelter the longest with either earned or unearned income; and, 3.) households in either Domestic Violence or homeless shelters affected by domestic violence.

There’s a need to do more - that’s clear from the HUD report and our record DHS Shelter Census – but this is a real start. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Today, November 4th, Is Election Day. Please Vote!

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy

Care for the Homeless client leaders, including members of our Consumer Advisory Board, recently completed a nonpartisan Voter Registration Drive that signed up 254 new voters, all eligible to vote tomorrow. That’s a CFH Voter Registration record. It breaks last year’s record setting drive success.
Our client leaders have the satisfaction of having helped people to register and some great memories from the effort. They registered people with past criminal records who didn’t know they had the right to vote. In New York anyone not currently incarcerated for a felony or on active parole (people on probation have the right to vote) has the right to vote.

They also registered people who were homeless and thought not having a regular permanent fixed address meant they couldn’t register. But being poor or homeless certainly doesn’t mean you lose your right to vote.

At Care for the Homeless we believe poor policy choices helped create the evil that is modern day homelessness and better policies can help to end it. Today – Election Day – each of us who is registered to vote has the opportunity to help determine who gets to set public policy going forward.

Journalists and commentators are predicting very low turnout for this year’s election.  That’s a shame because we’ll be voting for the state legislators, members of Congress and statewide officials who very much affect our lives and those of our families and clients.

Please take the opportunity to cast your vote and participate in democracy today. Regardless of who you vote for, everyone should cherish and exercise their right to vote their own values and have a say in our government and policies.

And if you aren’t registered but would be eligible to register to vote, contact our Policy Office at policy@cfhnyc.org anytime for assistance in getting registered.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wise Investment to Protect Human Services

Bobby Watts, Executive Director 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that his agencies would hold spending at current levels despite a record budget surplus. But by refusing to spend on programs that both create jobs and help the most vulnerable amongst us, he misses an opportunity to grow the economy and help our communities.
My organization, which employs over 100 staff members, is emblematic of what the governor could do if he invested a small percentage of the surplus into groups like ours. We fight homelessness—and provide good jobs for New Yorkers.
Homelessness in New York City has reached a tipping point, and we’re on the front lines of a crisis. There are over 57,000 people sleeping in city shelters nightly, 24,700 of those being children, and shelters can no longer meet the demands. The average length of stay in a homeless shelter is now longer than a year. Unfortunately, because of state budget cuts, human services agencies that aid the city’s homeless population are forced to do more with fewer resources.
Care for the Homeless fights homelessness by delivering high-quality, client-centered health care and shelter to homeless individuals and families, and by advocating for policies to ameliorate, prevent and end homelessness. Our physicians, nurse practitioners, health educators, housing specialists, case managers and social workers are providing critical community-based services to more than 8,000 homeless men, women and children throughout New York City.
We are part of a sector of the economy that employs 15 percent of the state’s workforce, and workers are overwhelmingly women and people of color. Currently, 80 percent of the human services workforce is female and 80 percent of those are nonwhite. In New York City, four out of five health care and social service sector workers are Black, Latina or Asian.
Unfortunately, human services organizations like Care for the Homeless are operating in a reality that sees more people seeking services but are forced to make tough choices to provide them. Human service organizations are relying more on private funds and individual donations. While the generosity is tremendously appreciated, it is not sustainable because government funding has been cut.
But there is a solution. With a $4 billion budget surplus, the state has the monetary resources to put the human services sector on a path to financial stability and save an industry that employs thousands of people of color and provides programs that help African-American families throughout New York. Now is the right time for Cuomo to make a $354 million investment in the human services sector and include this in his executive budget.
For us, that would mean we can continue to provide over 30,000 health care visits to homeless men, women and children annually. For almost 30 years, Care for the Homeless has brought high quality health care services directly to homeless people on their own turf, and we want to continue to do this as long as our services are needed.
It is time that the governor faces the economic reality in this state and realizes that more people are hurting than he would like to believe.
Organizations cannot continue to operate in a flat-funded environment. We keep the fabric of the state strong and help catch those who stumble. Without this investment, who will catch the human services sector when it falls?
G. Robert Watts is the executive director of Care for the Homeless.

Originally published on October 30, 2014 by New York Amsterdam News. Read more.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Care for the Homeless Takes Part in Community Forum on Creating Livable Communities for All

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy
Care for the Homeless was delighted to be included last week in a half-day roundtable discussion sponsored by Governing Magazine about “Creating Livable Communities” with about 30 of New York City’s leading policymakers, advocates, business people, union officials, academics and  elected officials. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito began the forum with a review of city concerns and programs. Other participants included the Partnership for New York City, AARP, the New York Housing Conference, the New York Public Library, and business, educational, transportation, healthcare, technology and public safety representatives.

Other elected policy makers present included City Council Members Margaret Chin and Paul Vallone, representatives of several Borough Presidents and various state and city government offices including the city Department of Homeless Services.

Governing Magazine has sponsored more than a dozen of these discussions “from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon” in an effort to start a meaningful dialogue on vital issues in communities across the country.

New York City is a leader in city planning and addressing important community issues, but certainly there’s much more to be done and the conversation must continue. At Care for the Homeless we’re pleased to be in that discussion.

We both recognize and celebrate the outstanding efforts the city administration and the current City Council are making to provide services to underserved communities and the programs now being launched to provide stable housing to people experiencing homelessness in New York City, as well as more aggressive efforts to create more affordable housing generally.

We also know more must be done. Providing accessible and appropriate healthcare and human services to all homeless people is the right thing to do, produces far better outcomes and actually saves public resources. The same is true of transitioning people from shelters to permanent housing including supportive housing for those who need it. As we address these issues we must be mindful of scaling these new programs at significant enough size to actually solve the problem, opening subsidies and housing to all those who so desperately need it, combining programs with robust aftercare and supports designed to allow participants to be successful and creating procedures and program administration that are efficient and effective. That’s part of our contribution to this ongoing discussion.

Our thanks to Governing Magazine, AARP, Speaker Mark-Viverito and all involved for this wonderful opportunity to participate in a valuable and needed process focused on creating livable communities for everyone.     

Friday, October 17, 2014

Debra Messing teams up with Care for the Homeless to help homeless families


Care for the Homeless teamed up with actress Debra Messing, Curél®  skincare and Direct Relief to provide 500 personal care packs filled with basic hygiene supplies and skincare products to help homeless families in need at our health fair Tuesday in East Harlem.

Award-winning actress Debra Messing delivers care packages to homeless 
families at a Care for the Homeless Health Fair in Harlem.
Debra Messing visits distributes care packages to homeless families.
Curél® skincare sponsored the initiative to offer comfort to some of the most vulnerable women and children of New York City. Direct Relief, a generous supporter of Care for the Homeless since the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, helped launch our new Mobile Health Clinic, which allows us to deliver medical care to homeless people in need on a regular basis and also boosts our capacity to respond to future emergencies. 

The assistance comes at a critical time. "Homelessness is going down nationwide, but it's going up 40 percent in New York City," said Debra Messing.

The Care for the Homeless Health Fair featured fun activities,
like face painting.
“The homelessness crisis has hit NYC families especially hard. The numbers are staggering, with over 23,000 children sleeping in city shelters every night,” said Bobby Watts, Executive Director at Care for the Homeless. “Children experiencing homelessness are sick four times more often than other children. This donation comes at a critical time, helping us reach families most in need.”

Care for the Homeless is especially thankful for Ms. Messing's support and the generous sponsorship of Direct Relief and Curél® skincare. Since 2013, Direct Relief has invested over $100,000 in cash grants and donations of medicines and medical supplies to Care for the Homeless to advance our mission in NYC. 

Dozens of volunteers helped with the day's event. We especially want to thank Chubb Insurance and the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation and the NYU School of Nursing. More photos from the day appear below.


Watch Debra discuss the event on Fox News at the clip below (from 3:22 to 4:35).




More Photos from the Day:

Volunteers from Chubb Insurance assembling care packages.

Volunteers painting faces with families at the Health Fair.

Moms visit with Care for the Homeless Health Educators.

Volunteers from NYU Nursing School - a huge help during the event.



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hostile Laws, Hateful Acts Bolster Stigma Against Homeless

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy
They call it the "poor door." It's a classic example of stigmatizing poverty. So much so it riled up New Yorkers this summer, and people are still talking about it.
A Manhattan developer created a separate entrance for the 55 nonmarket "affordable housing" tenants in his 33-story, waterfront, luxury high-rise – hence, the "poor door." Most people may not have been aware of it, but this is hardly the first luxury development in the City providing affordable units through a poor door.
Ugly demonstrations in Queens' Elmhurst neighborhood over a new homeless shelter at the previously vacant Pan American Hotel came replete with angry confrontations between community residents and children housed at the family shelter; name-calling and crowds grew so daunting officials interceded to take the homeless kids to a movie to keep them away from another protest. While it made for compelling summer TV viewing, it was just part of a growing trend of stigmatizing poverty, criminalizing homelessness and increasing attacks on vulnerable homeless people in New York and throughout the country.Segregation by door, of course, isn't just offensive because of the obvious odor of stigma it brings to the "lesser" tenants; it also guarantees those segregated tenants get lesser services. Most people, including some destined for the not-poor door entrance, were not amused. But stigmatizing and dehumanizing poor people is not new, and it's not always so odious to the neighbors.
The Big Apple's media had loads of opportunities this year to feature stories like the tragedy of Jerome Murdough, an emotionally disturbed street homeless man in Manhattan, arrested for trespassing, to wit sleeping in a public stairwell. He was taken not to get mental health services but to a Rikers Island jail. Murdough's mental condition quickly led to his placement in a solitary confinement and undoubtedly was the primary reason his shouts of distress were ignored as he literally baked to death in his defectively ventilated cell. And there was the scratchy street surveillance camera footage of a Bronx homeless man stomped to death for no apparent reason by teenagers as he slept on a church stoop.
Over the summer city police and MTA outreach workers conducted operations to remove homeless all-night riders or sleepers from the subways. The MTA, not unreasonably, views it as a business and customer service issue, but the outcome is often an arrest for a minor offense like lying down, taking up more than one seat or turnstile jumping.
The issue isn't just criminalizing the behavior. It's also that the outcome, an arrest, in no way addresses the real problem of homelessness and possibly a need for services often including mental health services.
It's not just a plague of stigmatization or criminalizing poverty in New York. In Monterey and Santa Cruz, California, and in other cities and towns across America, local governments have been enacting ordinances making normal activities like sitting, lying down, eating, giving food to others or even standing still in some public places a crime. That's despite the fact that numerous courts across the country have repeatedly ruled these laws against necessary "life-sustaining" activities unconstitutional.
Perhaps more troubling is the routine unequal enforcement of laws for the purpose of moving along or removing homeless people. A formerly homeless man recently told me about his experience of peacefully sitting on a bench in a New York City public park where he was rousted for no specific reason even as others sat nearby without being so much as talked with. The man's explanation? "I looked homeless and they didn't. It was a family park. They didn't want someone who looked homeless there."
He said the police officer actually told him which nearby park was "the poor park." If he was shown out of the park because he looked poor or homeless, then his crime was poverty itself.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which tracks "criminalization" of poverty and homelessness, reports a dramatic increase in criminalizing sleeping in vehicles, lying down in parks, feeding people in public places and "loitering, loafing and vagrancy." Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Committee publicly rebuked these kinds of policies noting "criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment."
It's all too easy to stigmatize vulnerable populations like homeless people and to criminalize being homeless. But it does nothing to solve homelessness. Displacing homeless people from commercial areas to less traveled spots, moving them from a "better" neighborhood to a poorer one or making them less visible near high-profile venues hosting major sporting or public events isn't just the wrong thing to do; it adds to the blame-the-victim mentality that incites even more venomous attitudes towards those in need.
So it should hardly be surprising that the down and out living rough on American streets are increasingly targets of senseless violence. A National Coalition for the Homeless study of hate crimes perpetrated against homeless people documented a 24 percent increase in violent attacks in one year, all believed to be motivated primarily by the perpetrator's bias. They reported the attacks are becoming more brutal than ever. A National Health Care for the Homeless project found homeless people 25 times more likely to be victims of attacks than the general population.
It's heartbreaking to think about these violent attacks. It's obviously irrational to attack a homeless person to take their money. The perpetrators—and they are almost always teen-aged boys or very young men—usually are unable to give a reason for the attacks or say they did it just because their victims were such easy targets. But the real predicate for attacks on homeless people because they are homeless is that they have been diminished, dehumanized and stigmatized.
Rather than "solving" homelessness by policing homeless people out of sight, a not inexpensive proposition in itself, homeless advocates argue the right, and cheaper, thing to do would be to provide adequate services and housing. In New York it costs about $3,000 a month to house residents in shelters, but far less to provide housing subsidies for stable housing. A study often cited by former HUD secretary and now White House budget chief Shaun Donovan reports street homeless people cost about $40,000 annually, primarily in emergency room visits, avoidable hospitalizations and expensive interactions with the mental health, law enforcement and corrections systems.

Providing a robust housing alternative to homelessness is not inexpensive, but it's far less costly than what we're doing now in not solving the problem. It also promises an opportunity to better lives and lessen the stigma people without homes bear every day.
This article originally appeared in City Limits, published on September 12, 2014. Read more.