Homelessness on rise as layoffs, wage cuts mount
BY CINDY JAQUITH
Three-fourths of cities surveyed reported a jump in the number of homeless seeking shelter in the last year, as layoffs and cuts in wages make it harder and harder to pay the rent or mortgage.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors released December 8 the findings of its survey of 27 cities, among them Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
More than 100,000 New York City residents applied for shelter in the last year, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. They included 15,800 children. The number of New Yorkers living in shelters or city-contracted hotels has nearly doubled over the last decade. Ninety percent of them are African American or Latino, the coalition says. These figures do not include the thousands who have moved in with relatives or sleep on the streets.
The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless have filed a lawsuit against New York City officials, charging they are violating a 1981 court order to provide adequate shelter to homeless people. The groups said individuals asking for shelter have been left to sleep on floors, tables, or chairs of city-run homeless centers. In one case homeless women were packed onto a bus after midnight and driven to Brooklyn where they were housed for five hours and then told to leave.
The commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, Robert Hess, said the lawsuit was “alarmist.” He claimed those who didn’t get beds missed their curfew or refused to accept the bed offered them.
City officials have not given up on trying to charge rent from those in shelters who have jobs. Regulations announced in May that would have demanded rent from employed users of shelters were quickly suspended after a loud outcry. But Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless said the matter is now before the New York State legislature.