Joan McAllister comments on a quarter century problem with no solution
Approximately 25 years ago, New York City was surprised to find itself facing a huge surge in family homelessness. We had seen this problem before but not on this scale. So the city, obligated by the state constitutional requirement that government care for the needy, began placing whole families in rundown hotels, many of them in midtown Manhattan like the Martinique and the Prince George.
It was startling to see kids not much older than 10 or 11 who’d likely never been far from homes in Brooklyn or the Bronx playing around a then very seedy Times Square or Lower Fifth Avenue area. A friend, Hank Orenstein who was Youth Coordinator at Community Board 6, suggested we publish a newsletter to help solve that problem.
One of the first issues of that newsletter “HOW…WHEN…WHERE” in July 1987 carried the following exchange of letters,
“Dear Mayor Koch: Why can’t you build housing with the money you’re spending on keeping my family in a hotel? Arthur B., Saratoga Family Inn”
Stella Schindler, Director of the Mayor’s Office for Homeless and SRO Housing Services, answered,
“Dear Arthur: The reason we can’t spend the money used for hotel rent on permanent housing is that the Federal government won’t allow us to do so. Their rules permit this money to be used only for temporary emergency housing. We would prefer to use it for permanent housing but Congress would have to change the law. We are urging them to do that, and in the meantime the city is using its own money to build thousands of units of permanent housing for families. With more assistance from the Federal government we could do even more.”
It’s sad to think that we have not yet solved the problem in NYC. The count of homeless families in the city’s shelter system is past 11,000 and climbing. So we will try to keep the newsletter going as long as the families need it.