[Hpn] "US shelters swell - with families"

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 28 Nov 2001 20:58:34 -0500


 We homeless advocates and activists have been telling you providers that
"you ain't seen nothing yet".
 Bill Tinker


 Headline:  US shelters swell - with families
Byline:  Alexandra Marks Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 11/29/2001
 (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 rent.

 * 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 children."

 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 tragedies.

 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 Atlanta.

 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 says.

 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 homeless."

 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."
 (c) Copyright 2001 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved.