[Hpn] NYC, NY - Homelessness-Prevention Methods Urged - New York Times - November 12, 2003
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Wed, 12 Nov 2003 05:46:33 -0500
Homelessness-Prevention Methods Urged
New York City must make greater efforts at preventing
low-income families from losing their housing if it is
ever going to curb the growing shelter population, a
court-approved panel on homeless policy has found.
By LESLIE KAUFMAN - New York Times - November 12, 2003
The Special Masters Panel, created in January as a step
toward settling 20-year-old litigation between the city
and advocates for the homeless, recommends in its first
report that the city start focusing on prevention
efforts like rent subsidies and anti-eviction legal
A copy of the report, which is to be released
today, was made available to The New York Times in
The report comes as the city faces a continuing deluge
of homeless families.
By law the city must provide
shelter to any family claiming homelessness.
there are about 8,200 families in the city's free
shelters, double the number that used them five years
It costs roughly $29,500 per year to shelter a
Gail B. Nayowith, one of the three special masters on
the panel, said that because of the way history and
laws had evolved, the city had essentially been forced
to tackle a housing problem backward.
"At this point
the city offers shelter first," she said. "We have to
try and prevent homelessness first if we are going to
try and make a dent in the number of people who use
The report makes numerous recommendations, many
familiar to those who follow the issue, to help
low-income New Yorkers keep housing they already have.
Among the suggestions is that the city increase the
rent subsidies it gives to women on public assistance
to better reflect real market costs; reserve more
proposed housing units for low-income families rather
than middle-income families; and get more money from
federal and state governments to build affordable
The panel also offered some fresher ideas for
prevention based on an detailed analysis of exactly who
is at risk for homelessness.
The panel, for example,
cited 12 city neighborhoods where community services
should be concentrated.
Because city data reveals that families headed by
people age 25 and under constituted almost half (48.3
percent) of all applicants for shelter, the report
recommends using community groups to reach young
families seeking other services, like welfare, for
education on how to budget and save up for their own
The panel also says that the staff at the Emergency
Assistance Unit in the Bronx, the primary intake office
for homeless families, should be empowered to offer a
broad array of prevention services like legal
representation for housing court, family counseling and
rental and income assistance.
The independent panel has broad powers to help oversee
policy on homeless families in the city. But there is
some disagreement about how much the city is obliged to
follow the panel's program.
Although advocates for the
homeless agreed to stop suing the city while the panel
was doing its work, the extensive court orders won
during 20 years of litigation are still in effect.
At the end of its two-year review period, the panel
could recommend to the judge in this case that these
orders be vacated, which is what the city wants.
presumably the panel would urge the court in that
direction only if the city were following its plan.
Steven Banks, the Legal Aid lawyer who represents the
homeless families against the city, said the panel's
sway might be enough to get the court to compel the
city to act on increasing rent subsidies and building
"There have been many reports in
the past," he said. "Unlike prior reports, however,
there are real teeth here because they are made in the
context of a hearing and the court has the power to
But Linda I. Gibbs, commissioner of the city's
Department of Homeless Services, said, "Ultimately the
city is responsible for setting the agenda, but this
pushes us in a direction the city wants to go, which is
to provide a different response to people with housing
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