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.