As New York City rents continue to skyrocket and minimum wage is not keeping up, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have become homeless or forced to live in substandard living conditions. I am supporting Bill de Blasio because he is the one candidate committed to significantly expanding subsidized housing and raising the minimum wage. While many of the primary mayoral candidates have spoken of the need to increase affordable housing in NYC, de Blasio is the only candidate who has pledged to build and repair 200,000 units.
Although the Bloomberg Administration has a legal mandate to house New York City's homeless population, there are now a record high number of homeless New Yorkers, including including 21,034 homeless children as of January 2013.
The Callahan decree states that homeless shelters must abide by health and safety standards and not be overcrowded. Clients I worked with described moving into shelters with their children only to find used heroin needles on the floor and rats living under the stove. Others reported their families being assigned to temporary rooms with rats crawling the walls. One client with severe nerve problems told me how in the shelter residents must be out of their rooms and onto the streets at 7:30 a.m. A family had an asthmatic daughter who could not breathe in their poorly ventilated shelter apartment during an unbearably hot summer. The shelter denied their request to install an air conditioner to help their daughter's breathing problems, stating that if the family got "too comfortable" they would overstay. Nevertheless, Mayor Bloomberg described the New York City shelter experience as a "pleasurable experience."
As an example of Bloomberg's ambivalence towards addressing homelessness in New York City, after he commissioned a study on the problem of gay teenagers which found that the city provided far too few beds for homeless youth -- 250 beds, whereas at least 4,000 more beds were needed --, in 2012 Bloomberg halved the amount of beds the city offered to homeless youth. Carl Siciliano, the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, New York City's largest shelter for homeless LGBT youth, stated that homelessness drives many of the city's gay youth into prostitution, leading many to become infected with HIV as a result.
Post-crisis spending cuts left 3,000 families evicted from their homes during the winter of 2009 and in 2011 the Bloomberg Administration pulled its funding for two-thirds of the Advantage Program altogether. That same year, Major Bloomberg proposed new eligibility requirements that would deny thousands of New Yorkers shelter, among them those with severe mental illnesses and other health problems. Among many others, undocumented immigrants are left out in the cold. The Coalition for the Homeless witnessed hundreds of homeless men and women sleeping on floors or being transported to faraway shelters in the middle of the night, only to be brought back a few hours later. On February 1st, 2012, 9,000 New York City families lost their homes when the Advantage Program, which had replaced Section 8, expired and nothing was put in its place. Wall Street caused the economic crisis. So why are bankers taking home million-dollars in bonuses while 20,000 children lack homes in the richest city in the world? Mayor Bloomberg made his pro-corporate, anti-poor agenda clear in his failure to regulate Wall Street and to hold it accountable for those who suffered the most from the economic crisis.
There has been a long history of elected officials failing low-income and/homeless New Yorkers. In 1995, Mayor Giuliani asked Governor Pataki to force shelters to evict homeless families for 30 days if they violated shelter rules that were oftentimes petty. Due to Giuliani's new "eligibility requirements"hundreds of homeless men slept on the floors of intake centers during the freezing 1995-1996 winter. By 1998 14,041 families had been denied housing. Legal Aid, The Coalition for the Homeless, advocacy groups, shelters and community religious leaders all spoke out in opposition to Guliani's measures, which caused widespread suffering. I am voting for Bill de Blasio today because he will steer New York City away from this administrations' policies, which have made the city unaffordable for working families and students, and which have gravely widened economic inequalities.
I worked as a caseworker at an organization that tries to keep families out of homelessness in East New York. This proved to be a nearly impossible task, due to the devastating anti-poor policies of the Bloomberg Administration. Oftentimes society engages in victim-blaming when it comes to poverty and homelessness. In extreme cases, our society's view on homelessness can lead to violent and organized attacks on the homeless. Like almost half of Americans, many of New York City's homeless families and individuals are working poor who cannot afford to pay New York City rents on minimum wage salaries. The clients I worked with would do anything to save their homes and protect their children from New York's streets and dangerous shelter system. However, even if they are able to land a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant -- our clients' most frequent employer -- this is not sufficient to cover their rents, and it certainly won't cover the security deposits and down payments clients have to make to get legal leases, which is why so many live in month-to-month rooms. If they lost their jobs or their unemployment was being investigated and therefore temporarily suspended, our clients did not receive housing under the Bloomberg Administration, which systematically defunded homeless shelters in the city. Clients also had to be evicted from their homes before the city would help them. Therefore, families had to become homeless before they could hope to get another home within a year's time or longer.
Rents have become too high for large low-income families to afford, unless at best they are doubled up, with two families living in one tiny apartment. It was even difficult to find a domestic violence shelter in New York City that accepts children for domestic violence survivors. One mother I worked with left her husband after more than a decade of abuse. Although she may have saved her and her children's lives by leaving, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) made it nearly impossible for the mother to obtain housing for herself and her children. The family had to wait at DHS for 72 hours before they received the help they needed. The housing they ultimately received lacked any kitchen utilities, just as the mother's food stamps were being cut. The clients I have seen are good parents; they are fighting to the bone for their children, just like any parent would.
Christine Quinn has been stronger on homelessness than the current mayor, who endorsed her. Her pro-corporate stance, however, will not steer enough away from Bloomberg's legacy. Despite Christine Quinn calling for "a new approach" in The Huffington Post, as City Council Speaker her call for 1,000 new units for homeless families and campaign pledge to create 4,000 new units is grossly inefficient. Christine Quinn has stalled paid sick leave for workers for six years, so I doubt that Quinn will follow de Blasio's call to raise the minimum wage. Creating sufficient affordable housing units and raising the minimum wage is necessary to keep more New Yorkers from living on the streets, and necessary to create stable, long-term economic growth in the city. I am supporting Bill de Blasio because he is the one candidate who will reverse the downward trajectory that far too many New Yorkers have faced during the Bloomberg years. The polls close at 9 p.m.: if these issues speak to you, please vote for de Blaiso in the Democratic primary.