[Hpn] New York, NY - HOMELESS IN AMERICA - PART I - Religion & Ethics
Newsweekly/PBS - Mar 29, 2002
H. C. Covington
H. C. Covington" <email@example.com
Sat, 10 Aug 2002 19:13:51 -0500
Homeless in America - Part I
American cities report a surge in homelessness. The National
Coalition for the Homeless says that the homeless never really
disappeared even during the good times of the '90s. On any given
day the number exceeds 800,000 and those we see on the streets
are only a tiny percentage of the homeless population
Lucky Severson - Religion & Ethics Newsweekly/PBS WNET - Mar 29 2002
Introduction -- BOB ABERNETHY, anchor:
This weekend of family gatherings, we begin a two-part series on
those without homes, and what is happening to them.
One issue, prominent in New York during the recent administration
of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, is whether the police should arrest the
homeless in order to get them into shelters and -- it is charged
-- keep them out of sight.
Lucky Severson has this week's homeless report
LUCKY SEVERSON: The lunch crowd at the Holy Apostle soup kitchen
in lower Manhattan. On most days, 1,100 are served as guests
here. The church says the majority are homeless. For many, it's
their only meal of the day.
According to a recent survey, most American cities report a surge
in homelessness. A new report from the National Coalition for the
Homeless says that the homeless never really disappeared even
during the good times of the '90s. On any given day the number
exceeds 800,000, and those we see on the streets are only a tiny
percentage of the homeless population. The report says the
homeless have been driven underground by laws passed in many
American cities, criminalizing homelessness.
Doug Lasdon runs the Urban Justice Center in New York City.
DOUG LASDON (Urban Justice Center): We've had people arrested;
it's not only panhandling, but arrested for sleeping on park
benches. In the Guiliani administration there were sweeps of
parks at night, not when people were around.
SEVERSON (to homeless man, David): Are you homeless?
DAVID (Homeless Man): Yes sir.
SEVERSON: Have you had problems with the cops?
DAVID: Yes I have. Yes I have.
SEVERSON: For years the homeless have felt safe from crime and
cops by camping out in places like the steps of the Fifth Avenue
Presbyterian Church, located in one of New York's richest
neighborhoods. That is, until early December, when the police
Reverend THOMAS TEWELL (Pastor, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian
Church): They came in the middle of the night and rousted the
homeless away from our building, knocking on their boxes in the
middle of the night, keeping them up. We thought it was truly
SEVERSON: The police said the outdoor congregation constituted an
illegal homeless shelter and public nuisance. Pastor Tewell
thought it was something else.
Rev. TEWELL: I think the police and the administration in New
York were a bit embarrassed to have homeless people on the steps
of a church in such an affluent area. The city said to us that
it's inhumane to have people staying on the streets. And my
response was that it's also inhumane to just move them along to
another place or to put them in a shelter where they are going to
get beat up, or abused, or harassed.
SEVERSON: Reverend Tewell sued the city, saying it was the
church's First Amendment right to minister to the homeless on its
steps. The judge agreed. The city appealed.
We asked for an interview with the city attorney's office but
were declined, we were told, because the case was still on
appeal. But officials are quick to point out that the city
guarantees shelter for every single homeless person in New
New York City has about 31,000 people living in shelters. The
problem is, many homeless prefer the streets because, like Joe
Vedella, they feel safer.
JOE VEDELLA (Homeless Man): You are scared to take a shower
because you think you're going to get raped. You are scared to go
to sleep because you think you're going to get killed or robbed
DAWN (Homeless Woman): I was going to college already. I want to
go back to school and get my life together. It's really hard
SEVERSON: This is Dawn. Unable to live with either of her
divorced parents, she's been on the streets over a year,
panhandling to pay for a nightly hotel she shares with a
DAWN: I've been getting so many panhandling tickets and I've been
arrested one time for sleeping on the sidewalk and I had to go
all the way to Central Booking. And I was in there for like over
24 hours before I was released.
SEVERSON: The Coalition for the Homeless report called New York
one of the country's meanest cities, along with places like
Atlanta, San Francisco, and Salt Lake. Under former mayor Rudolph
Guiliani, New York's "quality of life" statutes against
panhandling, sleeping on park benches, etc., were strictly
enforced, and many New Yorkers were grateful, but not all.
Mr. LASDON: I think it's less of an interest in solving the
problem of getting people off the streets than in moving homeless
people out of sight. I have clients now who sleep in alleyways
instead of a park bench in a park. That doesn't really solve the
problem for anyone.
SEVERSON: Doug Lasdon has been battling the city on behalf of the
homeless for almost 20 years. A number of the homeless are
veterans. Lasdon is appealing a case he lost on behalf of an army
Mr. LASDON: He was in the middle of the night lying on a park
bench, no one else around except some homeless people. He was
arrested, handcuffed, taken into the police precinct,
strip-searched, held in the jail, and the next day the district
attorney refused to prosecute.
SEVERSON: The city is working to make shelters safer. This
shelter in the basement of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church
is more like a halfway house for men who are one step from living
in an apartment. Men like Joe Vedella, homeless for 11 years, now
with a job as an outreach worker to the homeless.
JOE VEDELLA: When you get homeless and you have to rely on other
people to eat, it must get pretty dark. Especially when you have
to eat out of the garbage, but you have this pride about not
asking for help, because deep down you don't believe anything is
going to help you, so you just wander around.
Rev. TEWELL: Some of their stories, of course, are very sad, but
some of their stories are similar to our stories. As we've gotten
to know them, we've realized these are wonderfully articulate
human beings who have something really important to give to the
world, but need a chance to have somebody help them get to first
SEVERSON: Reverend Tewell says last year the church was able to
help 77 homeless find housing, drug rehab, or reunite with their
RONALD WATT (Homeless Man): The homeless on the street are not
all wicked. They are not all bad, they are not criminals.
SEVERSON: According to a 1999 federal report, almost 40 percent
of homeless have a mental illness; a quarter have drug problems.
Some have both. But many are here because of the hard economic
times and because New York, like many cities, has cut back on
AMANDA LOWE (Program Manager, Help USA): What's really become a
problem is the lack of affordable housing that people cannot afford
SEVERSON: Amanda Lowe is program manager for a foundation that
helps people get out of shelters, and eventually into city
People like Sonya Davis, mother of two -- 11-year old Tabbitha
and five-year old Keyonnie. Almost 40 percent of homeless are now
families with children, the fastest-growing segment of
homelessness. Sonya started on crack 15 years ago when her
brother died of AIDS.
SONYA DAVIS: How bad did you get? I got so bad that I was
stealing from my mother, my family. I sold all my jewelry, I
cleared out my bank account.
SEVERSON: But she always took care of her kids, and then a year
ago she could no longer pay the rent and was evicted. That day
she quit drugs cold.
Ms. LOWE: She's a go-getter, that's one thing. There's a saying
that the grass shouldn't grow under you feet, and that describes
SEVERSON: A few weeks ago, Sonya Davis was laid off work, but
within a week found a better-paying job. She beams with pride at
her current condition, and her children. And she dreams, like
Ms. DAVIS: The thing that I most want is for my children to live
in a house of their own.
SEVERSON: Homeless advocates say the solution is not
criminalizing the homeless, but providing more affordable housing
and social services. What's most important, they say, is that the
homeless are not kept out of sight.
Rev. TEWELL: I kind of like knowing that I see it because it's a
reminder to me that they are out there, and it's a reminder to me
to pray for them, to work for them, to speak up on their behalf.
And it's not only the 12 on our steps, but there are probably
10,000 to 15,000 in this city, and we think 800,000 or more in
America, and it's a reminder to me to pray for them, to work for
them, to speak up on their behalf. To give a voice to people who
have no voice.
SEVERSON: With increased unemployment and budget cuts projected
in all levels of government, the homeless are going to need a
voice more than ever, and a place to stay, even if it's a very
For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Lucky Severson in New
ABERNETHY: The problems of the homeless persist in spite of major
efforts to solve them: for instance, in the last four years New
York City has increased its budget for homeless services from
$360 million to $550 million and doubled its budget for shelters
Homeless & Housing Daily News
National Coalition for the Homeless
Read the recent report, "Illegal to be Homeless: The Criminalization
of Homelessness in the United States," at
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: Homelessness
U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
New York City Department of Homeless Services
Common Ground Community
The Partnership for the Homeless
The Boston Review: "Is There a Right to be Homeless?" by Vivian
Rothstein, Dec. 1993-Jan. 1994.
The New York Times Magazine: "The Hidden Lives of Homeless Children"
by Jennifer Egan, March 24, 2002.
Urban Justice Center
Urban Institute: "What Will It Take To End Homelessness?" by Martha R.
Burt, September 2001
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church
Sojourners: "An Inspired Complainer" by Jim Forest, Nov.-Dec. 1997
A commentary on Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement
and "uncanonized saint of the homeless."
DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA: THE ORIGINS OF HOMELESSNESS by Peter H. Rossi
THE HOMELESS by Christopher Jencks
THE WAY HOME: A NEW DIRECTION IN SOCIAL POLICY by the New York City
Commission on the Homeless
DOWN ON THEIR LUCK: A STUDY OF HOMELESS STREET PEOPLE by David Snow
and Leon Anderson
RUDE AWAKENINGS: WHAT THE HOMELESS CRISIS TELLS US by Richard W. White
CROSSING THE BORDER: ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN HOMELESS PEOPLE AND OUTREACH
by Michael Rowe
THE WAY HOME: ENDING HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA edited by Jodi Cobb et
THE VISIBLE POOR by Joel Blau
RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN: HOMELESS FAMILIES IN AMERICA by Jonathan
NO PLACE TO BE: VOICES OF HOMELESS CHILDREN by Judith Berck
THE ETHICS OF HOMELESSNESS edited by G. John M. Abbarno
HELPING AMERICA'S HOMELESS: EMERGENCY SHELTER OR AFFORDABLE HOUSING?
by Martha R. Burt, Laudan Y. Aron and Edgar Lee
OVER THE EDGE: THE GROWTH OF HOMELESSNESS IN THE 1980S by Martha Burt
VISIONS OF CHARITY: VOLUNTEER WORKERS AND MORAL COMMUNITY by Rebecca