5 Troubling Statistics About Homelessness That You Should Know

If you live in a major city, homelessness is getting worse.

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

In general, our country is seeing a decline in homelessness, but it’s still way too early to begin patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. From 2015 to 2016, the homeless population decreased by 3%, although that statistic is complicated by the fact that there was only a decrease among individuals living in sheltered locations (such as emergency shelters and transitional housing) while there was actually an increase in those living in unsheltered locations.

While many of the other statistics in The 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress depict an overall improvement, there are no shortage of numbers from this and other surveys that when compiled, paint an ugly picture of homelessness in America.

1. If you live in a major city, homelessness is getting worse.

Results from the January 2016 point-in-time count from The Department of Housing and Urban.

Development (HUD) indicated that out of the total 549,928 people experiencing homelessness, 49% (268,322 people) were located in a major city. That may be up less than 1% from 2015, but it’s still a change in the wrong direction. One in five homeless people were living in either New York or Los Angeles with the majority of those in N.Y.C. living in sheltered locations while the majority in LA were living in unsheltered locations.

2. The Big Apple isn’t making it easy.

To add insult to injury: according to the Coalition for the Homeless: State of the Homeless 2017 report, changes to the application process for families to enter shelters have resulted in a decrease of homeless families receiving approval — from October 2016 to December 2016, the percentage of approved families dropped from 50% to 42%. What’s more, “ The percentage of homeless families forced to apply for shelter two or more times before being found eligible increased from 37 percent in July to 45 percent in December 2016,” and due to the complicated and time consuming process of completing new applications, homeless families are forced to resort to living in “emergency rooms, subway stations, or 24-hour businesses, and to miss school or work.”

And as I’ve written about before, the majority of New Yorkers have no savings, and that many are just about one paycheck away from becoming homeless. Considering the cost of rent in the city, this should come as no surprise.

3. Our ‘unaccompanied youth’ are between 18–24.

Unaccompanied youth, or individuals under 25 who are not with a parent, guardian, or their own children are most likely to be between the ages of 18–24. On a single night in January 2016, 89% of homeless unaccompanied youth were in that age range while 11% were under 18. In total, there were about 35,686 unaccompanied youth, making up about 7% of the entire homeless population. In Nevada, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Montana, the majority of unaccompanied homeless youth are unsheltered while the opposite is true for Nebraska, Rhode Island, Iowa, New York, and Maine.

4. There are homeless college students.

Not all of us were lucky enough to enjoy dorm life and all its offerings. In the recent update to the 2015 report from Wisconsin HOPE Lab titled Hungry and Homeless in College: Results from a National Study of Basic Needs Insecurity in Higher Education, it says that 14% of community college students were homeless during their period of enrollment and among the former foster youth surveyed, 29% were homeless. They also found that out of all Black and multi-racial students, there were more who were homeless than there were who were home secure.

College is hard enough as it is without having to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night and how you’re going to finish your assignments and get to work on time. Perhaps what’s more troubling than the first statistics alone is that 51% of those who were homeless were balancing employment along with their schooling and more than half of them worked 20–40 hours each week with the majority making less than $15/hour.

5. There are ways to help.

It may be tempting to write homelessness off as a problem best left for the big guys to solve, but even people like me and you can make a dent in this issue. Visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness Take Action page for more information on volunteering on national and local levels. We can’t stand by and watch.

The Cost of ‘Sheltering’ The Homeless May Be Too High

A question I hear a lot when I’m talking about homelessness in New York, is: “why don’t the homeless just stay in shelters?” It is more complex than many New Yorkers imagine–both the problems and the purported solutions. For me, the more important question is: ‘why shelters at all?’

As someone who has spent a lot of time with the homeless–as a volunteer EMT and as someone who lived on the streets for 3 nights–I know firsthand how we have failed our homeless population. Providing shelters, both private and public, may seem like a solution for those who aren’t homeless, but for those who are, there are systemic problems. I agree with them, and here’s why:

  1. Shelters are expensive
  2. Shelters are unsafe
  3. Shelters often provide unfit living conditions
  4. Shelters have not been proven to work long-term

According to a Mayor’s Management Report, housing one homeless person as of last summer was nearly $100 a day. But aside from the monetary cost to New York taxpayers, there also exists the very real life-threatening dangers that face shelter dwellers. Because of these reasons, many homeless families choose the streets over shelters.

In 2015, incidents officially labeled as “violent” included 153 assaults, 65 cases of child abuse, 174 domestic violence incidents, and 90 allegations of sexual assault involving residents.

It’s no better in “cluster” shelters (private apartments and hotels converted to house the homeless) either. Though cluster shelters may have fewer incidences of violence, they’re often rat-infested, poorly managed (if managed at all), and lacking in basic accommodations like clean water. Because these shelters are privately-owned and exempt from fines, the incentive to address safety and health violations are lost on the owners and the city. Cluster landlords are not contractually bound to follow DHS’ lead. So, the residents have no recourse.

The conditions are so bad that Mayor Bill de Blasio commissioned the Department of Investigation (DOI) to investigate. The DOI spent four months inspecting 25 homeless shelters across the city, interviewed occupants and landlords, and evaluated the sites based on cleanliness, management, and integrity.

In the five clusters investigated across multiple boroughs including Queens and Brooklyn, the DOI found a total of 223 violations from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Department of Buildings (DOB), and Department of Housing Preservation and Development since 2012. Hotel cluster shelter facilities didn’t fare any better with 168 violations.

According to the DOI findings, “At its worst, DHS is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents.”

These findings are no doubt a reason for de Blasio’s recent commitment to phase out ‘cluster sites’ and add 90 new shelters in New York City. Sure, this move from expensive and unfit hotels and apartment shelters shows a willingness to solve the homeless housing issue, but I’m not convinced this is a move in the right direction.

In the mayor’s speech on the matter, he estimated that creating 90 more shelters in NYC would cost $300 million over the next five years, but critics have put the figure at closer to $500 million, and that doesn’t include operating and staffing costs.

According to de Blasio, alleviating the homeless problem is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is the key, “We will make progress, but it will be incremental. It will be slow,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to the people of New York City that we have an end in sight.”

But is the end really in sight? Maybe not the way we’ve been doing it. I suspect that the path to housing the homeless is the one less traveled: get them off the street by giving them a means to support themselves.

  1. Subsidized housing–Provide the homeless a pathway to sheltering themselves
  2. Job training — Training, whether in a trade or resume-building, to provide a pathway for them to support themselves
  3. Food stamps

In my experience, people who are homeless aren’t living on the streets because they chose to do so. Usually, they hit some bad times and ended up there. In fact, New Yorkers are roughly one paycheck away from being homeless because of loss of a job or some sort of injury. They want to work, they want housing, and they want to support themselves in order to get it. We should give them the means to do that. With the money we’re about to pour into building more shelters — something that has been proven not to work — there is an opportunity to enact a system that may work. And 2017 is as good a year as any to start investing in our homeless fellows.

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org

6 Ways to Pay it Forward in Your New York Community

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

There’s no place on Earth quite like New York City. Its energy and opportunity attract millions of people who want to be part of the Big Apple, and to those millions, the city gives so much. Actors, artists, businessmen, and professionals all benefit from everything New York has to offer.

The same people who thrive from the city’s many gifts are also the people who make New York a place who give back to others. With so many ways to give back, paying it forward is easier than you’d think.

Tutor with Masa

Masa, a Bronx-based organization dedicated to academic achievement, is seeking tutors for the spring 2017 term. Just two hours of tutoring a week can help students build a strong foundation in school by receiving homework help and growth as readers. Volunteer blocks are available between 6 and 8 PM, Monday through Thursday.

Coach Girls in Soccer

South Bronx United is seeking volunteer coaches for its two girls’ SBU competitive travel soccer teams. Coaches serve as more than mere play tacticians. They are mentors and role models who help the girls develop the values of teamwork, discipline, and respect as they form a love for the sport. The winter season kicks off in January and goes to early March. The spring season runs from mid-March to June. Schedules are flexible and will be built around your free time.

Food Bank for New York City

Food Bank for New York City had provided food to nearly one in five New Yorkers for over 30 years. To help its work in all five boroughs, FBNYC requires 800 volunteers a week to help package food, feed breakfast to seniors, or prepare meals for those who need them. FBNYC is open to individual or group volunteering opportunities, making it an excellent place for your business or organization to make an impact.

Help Your Local Park

New York City is full of dozens of green spaces big and small that provide peace and escape from the surrounding hustle and bustle of a major metropolis. There are a number of terrific ways to get involved with the city’s parks from volunteering to plant new plants and paint benches to working to restore natural green lands and tend to local wildlife.

Volunteer at the New York Public Library

The New York Public Library is seeking enthusiastic volunteers to help with library card sign-ups during the months of January, February, and March. Volunteers are asked to work 2–3 hour flexible shifts per month that are available in morning, noon, nighttime, and weekend hours. This campaign also provides information on a host of free services that the NYPL provides.

Become a Wish-granting Volunteer for Make-A-Wish

The Make-A-Wish Foundation works with children all over New York. As a Wish-granting Volunteer, you will be part of a team that interviews children with life-threatening diseases to determine their deepest wish. Afterward, you will assist with granting the child’s wish by working with Make-A-Wish staff and your volunteer partner.

In a city with a population of nearly ten million, there are tens of thousands (if not more) ways to give back and make a difference in others’ lives as well as your own. I’ve never done something for someone that didn’t make me feel more grounded or appreciative of all the different people who live here. Though there are times when being cramped in the concrete jungle can feel by rote, when I find new ways to give back, I feel a kinship to New Yorkers. In a sense, that makes me more than just one in eight million people.