“Of New York’s more than 40,000 homeless people in shelters — enough to fill the stands at Citi Field — about three-quarters now belong to families like the Lewises and are cloaked in a deceptive, superficial normalcy. They do not sleep outside or on cots on armory floors. By and large, their shoes are good; some have smartphones. Many get up each morning and leave the shelter to go to work or to school. Their hardships — poverty, unemployment, a marathon commute — exist out of sight.
Underlying this transition is a cascade of events, both economic and political. For the past three years, city officials say, 30 percent of New Yorkers seeking shelter have done so because of evictions, many connected to the financial crisis. (Domestic violence and overcrowding were other chief reasons.) At the same time, a disagreement over money between city and state officials last spring led to the cessation of a rent-subsidy program designed to shift the homeless from shelters into apartments. For the first time in 30 years, there is no city policy in place to help move the homeless into permanent homes.
Ms. Lewis, a health care aide, was evicted last month from her home in Far Rockaway, Queens. She was working full time for Able Health Care Services of New York, making about $500 a week tending to an autistic man. In August, because of cuts in Medicaid, her hours were reduced by half. Six weeks ago, she separated from her husband, Gregory Pitters, a maintenance man, who, before he lost his own job, earned $600 a week. On top of this, the $1,000 rent subsidy Ms. Lewis was receiving from the city, through the now-defunct program Advantage, ran out. Her apartment, a small two-bedroom, rented for $1,200 a month. She now makes $210 a week. She owes her landlord $4,280. The problem was mathematical, she said: ‘I can’t afford the rent.’ […]
At 40,000 people, New York’s shelter population is higher than it has ever been. (In 2001, when it hit 25,000, the city’s commissioner of homeless services was quoted in The New York Times as calling it “a temporary crisis.”) On any given night, 6,000 homeless men and 2,000 homeless women bed down in facilities for single people, and an additional 15,000 parents and 17,000 children sleep in family shelters. Then there are the individuals living on the streets whom the city counted last week in its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate. (The numbers will be available in March.)” - Alan Feuer