[Hpn] US shelters swell - with families;Christian Science Monitor;11/29/01

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Thu, 29 Nov 2001 16:05:58 -0500

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Thursday, November 29, 2001
Christian Science Monitor <http://www.csmonitor.com>
USA > Society & Culture section
US shelters swell - with families

Recession and Sept. 11 are causing more homelessness, which may echo '80s 

By Alexandra Marks <marksa@csps.com> | Staff writer of The Christian Science 

NEW YORK - At the end of the 1990s, the economic boom prompted serious talk 
about the possibility of ending homelessness in America. Last year, a 
national coalition produced a 10-year plan that even some skeptics admitted 
sounded viable.

Now, the economic downturn, exacerbated by the events of Sept. 11, has those 
same national leaders predicting a dramatic rise in homelessness reminiscent 
of the crisis at the end of the 1980s.

The signs are emerging throughout the country:

 A record number of people are crowding into shelters in New York. The 
fastest-rising group among them: families.

 In Georgia, almost 90 percent of shelters and service providers for the 
homeless are reporting an increase in requests for help with everything from 
a bed for the night to emergency assistance in paying utility bills and 

 In Chicago, all the city's shelter beds for families are full, forcing the 
city to regularly look for emergency alternatives, such as hotels.

Families of the working poor appear to be hit the hardest by the combination 
of high housing prices - a legacy of the '90s - and shrinking job 
opportunities. In New York, for instance, of the 80,000 people who lost 
their jobs in October, almost half were low-wage service workers.

"Our biggest worry is that the worst impact in terms of rising homelessness 
as a result of those job losses hasn't been seen yet and won't be seen for a 
couple of months," says Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the 
Coalition for the Homeless in New York. "Things are already worse than they 
were in the late '80s, because we're now dealing with more families with 

Funding squeeze
At the same time that demand for shelter and homeless-prevention services 
are on the rise, providers report a funding squeeze as a result of tight 
state budgets and contributors who are tapped out by the terrorist 

Even groups that diversified their funding sources by requiring 
contributions from some shelter inhabitants are finding themselves in a 
bind. For instance, in Georgia, several shelter programs are designed to 
help people reenter the housing market by providing an array of services 
such as education, job training, and child care. Once someone in the family 
is working, he or she is required to pay 30 percent of their income to help 
pay for those services. But with tens of thousands of low-wage jobs now 
drying up, so has that source of income for the shelters.

"It's like a triple-edged sword. We're suffering from funding cuts, 
contributors' cuts, and now the program money is down," says Katheryn 
Preston, executive director of the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness in 

For families like Lisa and Leo and their two children, ages 1 and 6, the 
nation's overburdened services translate into nights in a series of shelters 
- and sometimes on benches in New York City offices when the shelters are 
full. The family became homeless in August a few months after Lisa lost her 
job as an operator with a pager service.

"I want to go to college and finish my computer skills so I can work. But 
living like this, I can't do anything. We're constantly on the move," she 

Lisa's family troubles began, in part, with the year-long economic downturn. 
But Marion Legare was tossed out of work and his apartment as a direct 
result of the Sept. 11 attacks. He was working as a contract hourly employee 
in a cafeteria on the 43rd floor of Tower 1 when the first plane hit the 
World Trade Center. He and his co-workers made it out, but when he went to 
his company to look for more work, there was none. He soon fell behind on 
his rent and his utilities and found himself living in a shelter.

"I've been running around trying to apply for whatever jobs and assistance I 
can," he says.

With help from the Red Cross and the Coalition for the Homeless, Mr. Legare 
was able to pay some back rent and utilities. This week, after more than a 
month in the shelter, he was able to return to his apartment. But he's 
unsure about his future. He still doesn't have a job. He's thinking about 
taking one as a messenger, but it pays only minimum wage - not enough to 
cover his rent.

Two bedrooms? Not likely
A study released last month by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 
Washington found there's nowhere in the US where a person working full time 
at the minimum wage can afford a typical two-bedroom apartment. The wage 
pays for a one-bedroom apartment in only 10 jurisdictions.

"There's an extraordinary mismatch between rental housing costs and what 
low-wage workers earn," says the coalition's president, Sheila Crowley. 
"With a housing market like that, what you have is a fairly dangerous game 
of musical chairs, where some people fall out of the game and become 

Because it has proved so difficult to create affordable housing without 
subsidies, Ms. Crowley and other housing advocates contend that to prevent 
another homeless crisis, there are only two alternatives: The government 
could step in with more subsidies and encourage the development of 
affordable housing, or it could increase the minimum wage.

But many are doubtful the latter will happen. So homeless and housing 
advocates are hoping for increased money for subsidies.

"We know how to prevent homelessness. We just need the political will and 
the resources to do it," says Kitty Cole, senior vice president of the 
Lakefront SRO, a single-room occupancy agency for the formerly homeless in 
Chicago. "If we dealt with the small number of people who are chronically 
homeless and provided good prevention services for families that are on the 
edge, we could solve the problem. I know we could."

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Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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