After roughly one month on the job, Seth Diamond, New York City’s new homeless czar, has put forward his solution for ending homeless in NYC.
According to an article in the New York Daily News,
"The new homelessness commissioner has a message for needy New Yorkers who sleep in city shelters: Get a job!"
Wow! What a novel idea.
Why didn’t someone else think of that?
I’ll just bet that every New Yorker is thinking to themselves: "Thank goodness Mayor Bloomberg appointed this guy. He’s just brimming with tons of insight, isn’t he? In no time at all now, homelessness will be a thing of the past in New York City."
Okay, now that I’ve blown off a bit of sarcastic steam…
First off, let me say this: I understand the theory behind Commissioner Diamond’s thinking: in order for someone who is homeless to acquire housing, a steady source of income is required.
Secondly, I do not believe in entitlement programs of any sort. As a result, I understand his position that any homeless individual or family who is utilizing the city’s shelter system should be trying to find employment in order to facilitate becoming re-housed as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, Commissioner Diamond may have been able to (somewhat) successfully use that approach while he was the director of NYC’s welfare system.
However, there is a vast difference between those who are collecting welfare benefits and those who are homeless: namely the welfare recipients have stable housing, and are therefore in a better position socially for finding employment. The homeless, on the other hand, are at the mercy of the shelter system.
I’m sure that Commissioner Diamond telling the homeless to "get a job" may seem like a realistic solution in his own mind. There are nonetheless a few wrinkles that may prove to be problematic. In particular, the unemployment rate in NYC.
The most recent New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) press release I could find was dated April 15, 2010 and reflects the unemployment statistics for March 2010. The unemployment numbers for April 2010 are scheduled to be released May 20th.
According to the April NYSDOL press release, the unemployment rate for the state in March was 8.6 percent — down from 8.8 percent in February. Since that’s lower than the national unemployment rate of 9.9 percent, it would seem to indicate that NYC’s homeless would stand a better chance of finding work.
Unfortunately, while the NY state unemployment rate overall is 8.6 percent, the unemployment rate in New York City itself is 10.0 percent.
Such a high unemployment rate does not exactly lend itself to moving ahead in life.
And that causes me to ask: What if a homeless person is unable to get a job, no matter how diligent they may be looking for one? Will they be refused access to shelter services for lack of employment? Will they be tossed back out onto the streets by NYC?
In rebuttal to those questions, I’m willing to bet that Commissioner Diamond (and others) would eagerly posit that the homeless should be able to easily find employment at fast food restaurants. However, part-time, minimum wage paying jobs aren’t the solution. And that’s because of wrinkle number two: the exorbitant cost of housing in NYC.
The Rent.com website has this to say about NYC’s cost of living:
"New York State’s overall cost of living is 20% above the national average, with housing costs bearing the brunt of it at 40% above the average. New York City is the main culprit of these high numbers; it’s difficult to find affordable apartments for rent in the city, especially in popular boroughs Manhattan and Brooklyn, unless you’re lucky enough to have a high-paying job, independent wealth or multiple roommates willing to squish in to tiny studio apartments."
Here’s the bottom line…
I’m willing to give Commissioner Diamond the benefit of the doubt. After all, he’s new on the job. Moreover, he has absolutely no experience in addressing homelessness. And then of course, homelessness is not an easy issue to find solutions for. So, it should be expected that there will be a learning curve he has to deal with.
All the same, the reality is this: 20 percent of NYC’s homeless population is employed. Despite that, because of lower wage paying jobs and the ever increasing cost of housing, they are still homeless.
I hope that before too long, Commissioner Diamond comes to realize that ending homelessness in NYC is going to take a quite a bit more than just spouting the tried and failed battle cry of: “Get a job, you bum!”
Of course, if it turns out he doesn’t do any better at reducing homeless in NYC than his predecessor (as is my guess), he will undoubtedly become a recipient of a SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award…
… and, from what I can tell — based on his current approach — he’s not too far from having it bestowed on him in the very near future.