NYC Homeless Families Must "Pay To Stay"

Posted: May 9, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Politics

It seems that once again, New York officials have shown a lack of understanding when it comes to addressing homelessness in their city. They have begun using a "pay to stay" approach for homeless families who are working and staying at local shelters.

I’m sure that Mayor Bloomberg views this as being a rationale – and perhaps needed – policy. However, I wonder if this most recent development will only lengthen the time those families remain homeless?  

An article in the New York Times, New York Charges Rent for Working Homeless, said that this "… new policy is based on a 1997 state law that was not enforced until last week."

To me, what is the most disturbing was the article’s opening line:

"The Bloomberg administration has quietly begun charging rent to homeless families who live in publicly run shelters but have income from jobs."

Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with expecting the homeless to "pitch in" and put forth an effort to get themselves off the streets.

What I do have a problem with were the words mentioning that Mayor Bloomberg’s administration had "… quietly begun charging rent to homeless families."

There is too much "cloak and dagger" behavior in that – which in turn causes me to wonder why the seemingly apparent secrecy?

It also causes me to wonder why – since the state law which this current policy is based is more than a decade old – the city didn’t implement this policy back then.

In defense of the policy, Robert V. Hess, the city’s Commissioner of Homeless Services said:

"I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t. I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Our objective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community."

Despite Mr. Hess’ claim that it is not their objective "… for families to remain in shelter," it seems to me that is exactly what the result of this policy will be.

According to the state law, the "rent" that these families pay to the shelter should not exceed 50 percent of their income.

Yet, the article mentioned the instance of Martha Gonzalez, a single mother who "… lives with her 19-year-old son in a rundown shelter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn," was told that she owed "… $1,099 in monthly rent."

Mrs. Gonzalez earns $1,700 a month.

My math skills may be a bit rusty, but $1,099 is definitely more than 50 percent of her monthly income. Isn’t that in violation of the state law?

As I said before, I certainly don’t see anything wrong with expecting a homeless person to "carry their own weight" if they are able to. However, in my opinion Mayor Bloomberg’s latest policy will serve only make it more difficult for folks to get off the street. It will certainly lengthen their dependency on the city’s shelter system. This will probably end up costing the city more in the long run.

On the other hand… there is another approach which would be more fiscally responsible for everyone –

Let the city’s shelter’s "charge rent" to working families. Make the "rent" 50 percent of their income.

However, instead of placing their entire "rent" into the shelter’s general fund, set aside 80 percent of it in a type of savings account for those families. The remaining 20 percent would go toward offsetting the shelter’s operational costs.

This way, the working families would financially help contribute to operation of the shelter a bit. And, it would also allow those families to accumulate enough funds which, in turn, could go toward eventually moving into housing of their own.

Or does that make too much sense?

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