Living in a homeless shelter is as bad as one can imagine. It is a life of regimen, with often very little in return.
As a caseworker, working in this environment has more let-downs than you can imagine. One client has done all that was required of him; he started working and obtained an open public assistance case, thereby qualifying for a Living in Communities (LINC) voucher to pay for housing. You would think this would be the beginning of a new venture towards permanent housing. Not so fast!
The client has been waiting for housing for three months and counting. Though he should be able to find his own housing, consider what a voucher is worth: $1,250. Although he has done all that was asked of him, it doesn’t work the way it should. Meanwhile, another client is admitted to shelter, but has a mental diagnosis for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or anxiety/panic attacks—either of these diagnoses could and has thrown off the fragile balance of shelter.
Able-bodied clients who work every day often wake up with less than a good night’s sleep because of the behavior of some of the other diagnosed clients. The shelter is already limited for space, and the policy is that you can’t kick a person out (I too agree that no one should be kicked out). But it’s sometimes difficult to discipline bad behavior, and the real problem is that some clients need more help than others.
Another factor weighing on the system is the overpopulation of ex-felons entering shelters; this creates a sort of interim holding space for those recently released from prison and it wasn’t designed for that. This makes it even more difficult to serve the collective whole of our clients.
Housing should be a right of every citizen that wants to work and earn their keep. Many of our working poor clients are losing hope because they see that the boroughs they grew up in are no longer affordable. These clients do everything asked of them, yet finding affordable housing is nearly impossible. Every article written about New York and the gentrification of our neighborhoods confirms that housing has been made unattainable for the “other” New Yorkers. I have discussed this topic with professors and friends alike—when funding was cut on state and federal levels, what did those politicians think, that people would stop populating?
It’s not fair to ask people to look for housing in other states or live in what is still against the law in New York—rented rooms. Humanity in all of us dies when we stop paying attention to each other. The government and the state of New York have abandoned their people. Governor Cuomo abandoned poor people a long time ago. With this new wave of political assertiveness, can Cynthia Nixon put together a coalition that includes not just rich and middle class people, but truly the poorest of the poor?
People need hope and a vision. My clients deserve a second chance at starting over, and the mentally ill deserve better treatment; ex-felons deserve a second chance, too. Homelessness isn’t just a New York City problem; this issue affects every corner of the state. We need leadership that listens to the people. We need leadership that is all-inclusive. We the people need a new leader—because real lives are hanging in the balance.