Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bloomberg Starts Charging Rent To The Homeless

I could hardly believe the headline, that the Mayor would want to charge the homeless who have gotten jobs and live in shelters, it sounded too perverse, even for me. Yet that is exactly what the Bloomberg Administration started doing this past week.

Imagine being homeless, out on the streets with almost nowhere to turn. Then you manage to get one of those rare openings in one of the city's shelters. With that ounce of stability, in these tough times you also manage to get a job. Then the shelter, under Bloomberg's directive, orders you to pay them up to half of your wages. Feeling hurt? Angry? Whatever your emotion, there is definitely something wrong here.

From The NY Times:

Vanessa Dacosta, who earns $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro, received a notice under her door several weeks ago informing her that she had to give $336 of her approximately $800 per month in wages to the Clinton Family Inn, a shelter in Hell’s Kitchen where she has lived since March.

“It’s not right,” said Ms. Dacosta, a single mother of a 2-year-old who said she spends nearly $100 a week on child care. “I pay my baby sitter, I buy diapers, and I’m trying to save money so I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in the shelter forever.”
So what's the reasoning behind this?

City officials said the new rent requirement had been in the works since a 2007 state audit that forced them to pay back $2.4 million in state housing aid that should have been covered by homeless families with income. They argued that homeless people with income should be expected to pay for a portion of their shelter costs, a model that echoes the federal Section 8 housing voucher program.

“I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t,” Robert V. Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, said in a telephone interview Friday. “I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Ourobjective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community.”
Oh, well if the state says so, then we must make the homeless shoulder that $2.4 million dollars right?

But advocates for the homeless said the new policy was punitive and counterproductive, and some shelter residents, in protest, have already refused to sign the documents acknowledging receipt of the rent notifications.

“Families have been told to pay up or get out,” said Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society. “The policy is poorly conceived, but even more alarmingly, it’s being poorly executed. What is happening is that we have seen cases of families being unilaterally told, without any notice of how the rent was calculated, that they must pay certain amounts of rent or leave the shelter. We’ve already had a case of a survivor of domestic violence who was actually locked out of her room.”

Banks is right, this is a bad policy and one that is being poorly enforced. $2.4 million dollars to the city and $2.4 million to a group of people struggling to become productive members of society is not even close to being comparable. It is even worse that a twelve-year old rule has begun to be enforced in such devastating economic times. Seriously, have a heart Mayor (or buy one) and stop punishing the homeless, especially those that are trying so hard not to be living on the streets or in a shelter.