Another grim economic record was set last week in New York City homeless shelters when the number of children seeking shelter tipped the scales at 19,000 – the most since the days of the Great Depression.
The New York Daily News (NYDN) is reporting that the city’s total shelter population has risen by 17 percent with the number of children rising by 18 percent in just the past year. A total of 19,077 children are being housed in the city’s homeless shelters in addition to 26,097 adults – for a total of 45,174 total individuals, according to a report from the New York City Department of Homeless Services published on September 6.
“Not since the grim days of the Great Depression has New York City had 20,000 children sleeping homeless each night,” said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless.
NYDN interviewed Francheska Luciano, 14, has been living in a shelter with her 32 year-old mother and three little sisters since January when they were evicted from an apartment they paid for with a city rental subsidy called Advantage. When the city ran out of funds and cut the program, they were tossed out into the streets.
Luciano says the shelter is “like living in hell . . . . It’s a nightmare every day.”
It’s especially tough on her little sisters, age seven, four and two, who are being denied a normal childhood and forced to stay in places where they get little sleep. “It’s not fair to them,” she said.
As for herself, she doesn’t tell her friends that she’s homeless. “It’s really hard because I don’t tell my friends. I can’t,” the teen said. “Even though I’m just a teenager, it is really stressful.”
The NYDN reports that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a mayoral hopeful, wants to use public housing apartments and federal housing vouchers to move people out of shelters. In the meantime, the city has opened nine new shelters this summer to handle the crowds.
“Since just May, more than 2,000 children have become homeless,” said Ralph da Costa Nunez, CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. “If the trend continues, we will surely see more than 20,000 children living in shelters by Christmas — a gift that nobody wants.”
Nationally, about 1.6 million children are presently being housed in homeless shelters. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that the number of homeless students in the United States exceeded one million for the first time during the 2010-2011 school year, reaching a total of 1,065,794 homeless students. This resulted in a 13 percent increase nationally of homeless students over the previous school year and a 57 percent increase since the start of the recession in 2007.
New York City is not the only metropolitan city that has seen a dramatic rise in its homeless population. Since the 2008 recession began, hunger and homelessness has mushroomed among all age groups with the U.S. Conference of Mayors reporting some cities seeing anywhere from 30 to 40 percent increases in the number of homeless.
President Obama’s re-election campaign is built on pleading for more time for his economic policies to take shape. With so many children already left homeless, can we really afford to wait any longer?
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