[Hpn] 80 percent of all New York City shelter beds are run by nonprofit social- service agencies social- service agencies

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Sun, 26 Nov 2000 09:18:09 -0600

"About 80 percent of all New York City shelter beds are run by
nonprofit social- service agencies that try to wrestle with some of
the causes of homelessness, like mental illness, unemployment and drug

"Unless you address those underlying conditions," Mr. Oesterreich
said, "you're not going to make a dent."


November 25, 2000
City Lines Up More Shelter for Homeless

New York -- Anticipating an unusually cold winter, the city's
Department of Homeless Services is adding hundreds of shelter beds to
be available on freezing nights to homeless single adults, Martin
Oesterreich, the commissioner of homeless services, said yesterday.

At the moment, the system has room to spare, Mr. Oesterreich said, but
beginning Dec. 4, in anticipation of the seasonal rise in demand for
shelter beds, the city is contracting with private, nonprofit agencies
to add 330 beds in Brooklyn to citywide reserves. The city is also
negotiating with churches and synagogues to make regularly available
the 500 beds they now provide on an intermittent basis.

"I'd rather be safe than sorry," Mr. Oesterreich said. "City Hall's
been very supportive of that."

Plans for the seasonal expansion of the shelter system contrast with
last year's court battle over the city's longstanding right to
shelter. A state court ruling in February stopped the Giuliani
administration's efforts to bar homeless people from shelters if they
failed to meet work requirements and other welfare eligibility rules.
The judge's decision is expected to stand at least through the rest of
the mayor's term in office, because an appeal contemplated by city
officials has yet to be filed.

On Thanksgiving night, 7,059 single adults slept in the city's
7,512-bed network of homeless shelters, with 300 beds in reserve. The
shelter system includes some large, city-run dormitories, but in the
last five years it has been increasingly dominated by smaller,
specialized programs in which nonprofit agencies offer rehabilitation,
mental health services or job training along with a place to sleep.

The seasonal expansion of the shelter system is one of the most
visible measures of the city's response to homelessness, but it does
not necessarily mean fewer homeless people will be seen on Manhattan

Some homeless people shun the shelter system except in extreme cold.
Some who appear homeless actually use the streets or subways more as a
place of business than as a bedroom. And others, including many of
those who have lost a place to live mainly for economic reasons, like
rising rents and low wages, pass entirely unnoticed by the public.

Police sweeps of homeless people from more visible places in Manhattan
have tended to disperse some of those living on the street to other
boroughs, advocates for the homeless say. And police crackdowns on
"quality of life offenses" such as drinking in public, trespassing,
obstructing the sidewalk and panhandling  like the one recently
announced by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani  also tend to send homeless
people out of sight, to the jail on Rikers Island among other places.

An analysis of the city's computerized shelter records in recent years
shows that about 25,000 people use the city's single-adult shelters in
a given year; about half of these leave after a week and do not come
back. Another third return periodically for stays of about 80 days,
while a minority are the long-termers who dominate the public image of
the homeless.

A study issued this week by the Bronx borough president, Fernando
Ferrer, who is running for mayor next year, estimates that the so-
called street-bound homeless number more than 10,000 people citywide.
The study recommended a more coordinated approach among city agencies
that deal with the homeless, including the police.

In another pending lawsuit with a potential impact on the homeless
shelter system, a state judge ruled last summer that continuing mental
health care must be arranged for mentally ill inmates before they are
released from Rikers Island and other jails. That order has been
stayed pending a city appeal, but a settlement is under negotiation.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said it could include referring such
inmates to specialized shelters, instead of dropping them in Queens
Plaza at night, as is done now.

Advocates had mixed feelings on the city's addition of temporary beds.

"It's certainly a welcome change to have the focus be getting a roof
over people's heads, but it's unfortunate that the city continues to
view single-adult homelessness as something that can be dealt with
mainly with emergency shelter beds instead of permanent housing and
additional mental health services," said Steven Banks, the Legal Aid
Society lawyer who represents the Coalition for the Homeless. "The
bottom line is, a shelter is not a home."

In the family shelter system, Mr. Banks added, 9,850 children in 5,483
families are now in emergency shelters, and though peak demand
typically comes in the summer months when children are out of school,
in recent weeks as many as 30 families were left to sleep on the
floors and benches of the Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx.

Mr. Oesterreich said the new beds for men would be run by the Father
Young Residence, near the city-run Bedford-Atlantic men's shelter, and
those for women by Interfaith Medical Center, both in the
Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

At a time when many cities are facing rising numbers of homeless
people in the streets, Mr. Oesterreich said, New York City's shelter
system is now seen as an international model, citing social services
officials from Canada and Germany among recent visitors.

About 80 percent of all city shelter beds are run by nonprofit social-
service agencies that try to wrestle with some of the causes of
homelessness, like mental illness, unemployment and drug addiction.

"Unless you address those underlying conditions," Mr. Oesterreich
said, "you're not going to make a dent."

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