[Hpn] US shelters swell - with families;Christian Science Monitor;11/29/01
Morgan W. Brown
Thu, 29 Nov 2001 16:05:58 -0500
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 <email@example.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
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
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 W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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