Many New Yorkers wake up and commit to the daily grind of trying to make it in the big city. Sometimes the grind simply isn’t enough.
Currently, there are over 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters. Many are employed in the service industry, holding down low-paying jobs that are crucial to keeping the New York economy humming. About 13.5% of jobs in the city pay minimum wage, according to an estimate from the Comptroller’s office, or $11 an hour for workers at businesses of at least 11 employees.
In addition to the constant soaring rental market and not soaring income, many are faced with a hard reality of being considered poor with very few options or means of help.
Rent has surged nearly 20% in real dollars from 2000 to 2017, while household income decreased by 6.3%. The average apartment goes for $2,000.
When renters can’t afford the rent and can’t afford to quit their jobs, shelters become the option. Rather than addressing the root cause of homelessness by building long-term housing that all can afford, the city’s approach prioritizes for-profit development and homeless shelters.
Shelters are also not designed for men. Women and children get the first preference, and the result of missing curfew resembles an eviction. Once you lose your spot, it’s back to the end of the line.
To put it in a perspective that New Yorkers will understand, shelters are popping up faster than Starbucks. The city government’s emphasis on for-profit housing development will likely make more people homeless, and the over-emphasis on shelters will actually prolong the homeless crisis.
If you’re wondering if homelessness is a by-product of laziness, your wrong. The number one prime reason is the lack of affordable housing. To make up for the lack of deeply affordable units, the city continues to rely on shelters to pick up the slack.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a homeless person was considered a bum, or mentally ill. In 2018, a homeless person has a bachelors degree, a 9-5 job, and health benefits. The problem today is the lack of affordable housing.
“It’s like the rat race, once you’re in — it’s that much harder to get out” said Trisha Ocona, a New York real estate broker. “They’re building more shelters than permanent housing” she says, following up by adding, “First, we were losing our communities due to foreclosing on our homes, now we’re being evicted from our apartments and sent to the shelters.”
When Bill de Blasio ran for mayor in 2013, he built his campaign on ending New York’s “tale of two cities,” promising to focus resources on those who had been left out of the city’s success. As mayor, he instituted a new voucher program and increased funding for legal aid and emergency rental assistance to those on the verge of eviction. The city’s Department of Homeless Services now has an annual budget of over $1 billion.
And yet, the crisis has only gotten worse. Homelessness is higher in Washington, D.C., and Boston than it is in New York, but in terms of sheer numbers, no other U.S. city has such a large homelessness problem. That 60,000 figure represents only the people who can be counted in shelters. It does not include all those drifting from one friend or family member’s couch to the next, or sleeping throughout the city in parks, subways and/or on stoops.
A multitude of solutions exist to solve the housing crisis and end homelessness in this country, but they must be fought for. They require the de-commodification of housing and the recognition that the capitalist real estate market exists to make a profit, and will never go out of its way to meet people’s needs.
If your or someone you know is at risk of homelessness in NYC, visit the Homeless Shelter Intake web portal via NYC.gov