Foreclosure of the American Conscience: 109,000 Homeless on New York Streets

05/19/2009 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need
There are no guns, no bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed"

"From a Distance," Julie Gold

On any given night in New York City, an estimated 36,000 American children and adults will sleep in homeless shelters. Untold others sleep in the streets and parks and darkest corners of the American dream. In 2008, while bankrupt Wall Street firms handed out $18.4 billion in bonuses, over 109,000 different homeless Americans lined up for shelter in New York City.

Meanwhile, an indefatigable alliance of housing advocates, religious and community organizations, and the homeless, led by housing justice hero Marc Greenberg, will continue their crusade to turn Mayor Michael Bloomberg's metropolis into "the Blessed City."

This Wednesday, May 20th, the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing will be sponsoring its 25th annual convocation for housing justice at Trinity Church in Manhattan, with an overnight vigil near City Hall in Foley Square.

Will Mayor Bloomberg be joining them?

That's a good question. The ranks of the homeless in Foley Square on Wednesday night will include "witnesses" from the Interfaith Assembly of Homelessness and Housing, including several formerly homeless New Yorkers who have successfully graduated from various education and jobs programs, and Brad Lander, the former director of the Pratt Center for Community and Environmental Development "PICCED" and a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn's 39th district; Fr. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Assistant for Social Ministries for New York Province of the Society of Jesus; Reverend Linda Bartholomew of Grace Church; Dennis Barton, Deacon at Middle Collegiate Church among many others. To see the entire list and how you can help, visit: http://www.iahh.org/2009-vigil/witnesses

These "witnesses" to this national disgrace need our support.

Under current New York State rent laws, New York City has been losing between 10,000 and 15,000 affordable apartments per year--the equivalent of at least one billion dollars worth of affordable housing per year - for the past decade.

"Under vacancy decontrol," according to Marc Greenberg, the founding director of the Interfaith Assembly, "when a landlord is able to raise the monthly rent of an apartment to $2,000 (through means legal, moral or otherwise) and the apartment becomes vacant, that apartment loses its rent regulations forever. In addition to the resulting loss of affordable housing, this incentive for landlords to raise rents to this level has resulted in questionable practices of many kinds and the harassment of tenants. With nearly one third of New York City Renter households paying 50% or more of their income for rent, the result of the continued loss of regulated apartments will invariably be more homelessness for thousands of children and adults and the tremendous trauma and life-shaking disruption that go with it."

While the Department of Housing and Urban Development is scheduled to receive $7.4-billion in new federal spending in the Obama administration's 2010 budget, an increase of more than 18 percent, the housing needs for low-income Americans continue to grow in this current housing crisis. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, allocated $1 billion, will provide money for municipal government and nonprofit projects to construct, rehabilitate, and maintain low-cost housing units.

In the New York metropolitan area alone, over 182,000 homes have gone into foreclosure in the last three years.

In effect, with a record number of Americans paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing rents or mortgages, thousands of tax-payers teeter on the edge of homelessness daily. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, "over the past decade, the number of homeless families sleeping in New York City shelters and welfare hotels, including 15,800 children, has nearly doubled. The average stay for homeless families in the municipal shelter system is currently ten months."

The 25th Annual Interfaith Convocation for Housing Justice kicks off on Wednesday, May 20, 7pm, at the Trinity Church's St. Paul's Chapel, Broadway and Fulton Street, in New York City.

Composer Julie Gold will perform her classic, "From a Distance."

City council members and housing advocates will be recognized for their long-time work as "Builders of the Blessed City."

Here's a clip from the Coalition for the Homeless on the ruthless real estate realities and decisions in New York City today: