[Hpn] NYC, NY - New York's Homeless Get Prison For Shelter - Washington Post - August 16, 2002

Homeless Daily News Homeless Daily News <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Fri, 16 Aug 2002 19:05:50 -0500

New York's Homeless Get Prison For Shelter
City Wrestles With Options As Record Number in Need

Michael Powell / Christine Haughney - Washington Post - August 16, 2002

NEW YORK -- The homeless families stood near the gray, six-story
former prison that has become their temporary home this week and
spoke of cells with windows nailed shut, tiny beds and the stench
of ammonia and urine.

Most of all they talked about the heat.

City officials sent Pat and Margaret Booth and their two
daughters to this South Bronx facility Tuesday night after they
sat in a city office until 3:30 a.m. Margaret squeezed her two
daughters onto her narrow cot. There was no fan.

"The beds were soaked with the sweat," she said.

Pat Booth loaded produce trucks until he tore cartilage in his
knee. His family ran out of money and came here. He can't quite
believe this is happening.

"This is a jail without bars," he said. "But it was either come
here or we're on a bench in the park."

Faced with a swelling mass of homeless families, Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg's administration Monday began placing 200 families each
night in this old prison known as "The River."

The move sparked outrage from advocates for the homeless and
editorials urging the administration to find a better alternative.

By last night, city officials agreed to stop sending children younger
than 7 there after a Legal Aid Society consultant found
loose and chipped lead paint in many corners of the prison.

But heat seems as great a problem, as children and adults walked out
of the shelter drenched in sweat.

"It's oppressively hot in there -- it's like a tin can in the
sun," said Steve Banks, the Legal Aid lawyer handling a
long-running lawsuit against the city.

"There's a reason that barrack-style shelters here have been
outlawed for children and families."

City officials expect to keep sending families here for several
months. No one expects the broader crisis to abate soon.

Fed by a weak economy and a dearth of affordable housing, the
number of men, women and children crammed into New York's
shelters and welfare hotels has reached record numbers -- the
homeless census now stands at 34,500.

That is 6,000 more homeless people than in the bleakest days of
the late 1980s, when the face of New York's poor became a
national symbol of urban poverty.

"Homelessness has been on the rise for three years," said Linda
I. Gibbs, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless
Services. "More recently it has accelerated."

The problem is not confined to New York.

In Massachusetts and Connecticut and the District, record numbers
of homeless families have sought shelter this summer, in numbers
typically seen only in the harshest winter months.

Shelters in Boston are operating at 130 percent capacity.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors in a recent report found that
requests for homeless shelter had increased by an average of 13
percent in 27 cities surveyed around the United States. New York
City was not included in that survey.

Homelessness has many causes, not least the dysfunctions that
haunt those who live on society's social and economic fringe.

And indeed some of those outside the Bronx facility spoke of
wrestling with heroin addictions and other ills.

But studies have found that a greater percentage of the homeless
than ever before hold jobs or recently became unemployed.

Most experts who study homelessness agree that the overriding
problem is a superheated housing market that has not cooled, even
in last year's recession.

Landlords in once-marginal neighborhoods routinely refuse federal
rental vouchers, preferring to rent on the private market.

New York and Massachusetts return about one-third of their federal
vouchers unused each year.

City officials responded to the homeless crisis of the late 1980s
by rehabilitating tens of thousands of apartment buildings and
reserving some subsidized apartments for the homeless.

By 1990, the number of homeless people in shelters had dropped
to 18,000.

After Rudolph W. Giuliani took office in 1994, he tightened
entrance requirements and cut back sharply on the production of
subsidized housing.

Caseworkers now turn away nearly 10,000 people seeking shelter
each year.

Those turned away aren't counted as *homeless*, and yet the
*homelessness* census has soared.

"The Bloomberg administration is trying to address this crisis,"
said Joe Weisbord of Housing First, a group that advocates
building more affordable housing. "But absent a new supply of
housing, it's a losing game."

Bloomberg has warned that housing and poor schools are the
greatest crises afflicting the city.

"People can't find affordable housing," he said on his radio show
last month. "And we've got to do something about that."

At the same time, Bloomberg cut city money for building new
subsidized apartments this year. The city faces a $5 billion
budget gap next year.

Officials with the city's Department of Homeless Services portray
the old prison as the best of several poor options.

Sitting just south of Yankee Stadium, it is a block away from the
office where caseworkers evaluate families in need.

Officials said they have tried to make the prison look a bit
homey. They've built walls, hung shower curtains and installed a
few fans. But the doors are locked until 8 a.m.

Melody Nelson, a traffic director for a local utility, was among
several working parents who said they could not exit in time to
make it to work.

Nelson and her daughter, 15, stayed awake most of the night,
agreeing to watch babies as their mothers caught some fitful

"You could see water dripping down on the babies' legs from the
ceiling," she said. "There's no way I'm waking up with . . . dead
babies around me."

Outside the brick homeless office in the Bronx, a toddler threw a
tantrum, a rail-thin woman vomited and a homeless woman ate an
orange and wept.

A night in prison had offered them no rest.

 2002 The Washington Post Company
source page:  http://makeashorterlink.com/?D2F953A81

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