Senator Rev Ruben Diaz Statement on NYC Homeless Policy
Statement by New York State Senator Reverend Diaz, Member of the New York State Senate Committee on Social Services, Children and Families presented to the New York City Council General Welfare Committee on Wednesday, October 24, 2007 - 1:00 PM
Topic: Department of Homeless Services: New Policy for Family Intake and Overnight Placements
On Friday, October 12, 2007, I held a press conference outside of the PATH emergency family shelter located at 346 Powers Avenue in The Bronx. We were there to bear witness to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new policy for the City’s homeless services. My Chief of Staff, Ms. Camella Pinkney-Price, joined us at the PATH Shelter on Friday, October 12, 2007 and returned several nights after to personally witness the treatment of Bronx families who attempted to seek emergency shelter.
The families who were denied shelter due to the Mayor’s new plans for the homeless to supposedly close a loophole in the City of New York’s homeless policy included mothers and fathers with children and expectant mothers.
This new policy went into effect on the first cool evening of autumn. It was a disgrace. Several families on the “list” of names to be denied included families who were placed on the list in error. As a result, the City of New York inflicted emotional harm and undue suffering on mothers, fathers and children that sought and then were denied emergency shelter.
During that first week of the new policy, New York City had 9,400 families – that is 36,042 people living in City shelters. I reiterate the words of Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless: "Instead of helping place these families into permanent housing, the Bloomberg administration has announced a new initiative that will force many homeless families to return to unsafe living situations or out onto the street,"
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is failing at his goal to reduce homelessness. His policies are failing too many New Yorkers in need.
This new policy by Mayor Bloomberg has already affected mothers, fathers and children who have no place to turn and will be forced into spending the nights riding the subways and living in the parks, streets, and sleeping in public benches. The winter and very cold weather has not yet arrived.
Our office receives hundreds of complaints from Bronx residents about the treatment of families in need in New York’s homeless shelters.
These complaints include stories of personal insults, and badgering from City staff degrading mothers and fathers in front of their children about how unacceptable it is to be homeless. It is not the place of municipal staff to pass judgment upon or mock families and degrade New Yorkers who need emergency assistance.
These complaints include stories from mothers who are denied the ability to heat their children’s milk, or provide warm food for their children, all while watching City employees order warm food and drink in their presence.
These complaints are from families who are given the same meal every day at the Bronx Emergency Shelter. Children receive cold food, the same thing, for each meal – milk, an apple, a juice, and a sandwich.
These complaints include the denial of families to bring warm food into the shelter to feed their families. The same mop that is used to mop the floor should never be used to mop the toilet.
These complaints include families who describe the bathrooms at the Bronx Emergency homeless shelter as filthy. Is it too much to ask for someone to mop the floors with a different mop than they use to clean the toilets?
Ms. Pinkney-Price witnessed staff members at the Bronx PATH emergency shelter change the time that a mother of three young children signed out at 10:28PM. The staff person changed the time to 9:28PM. That mother had signed in before 5PM that day. The only conclusion we can reach is that this was done to prevent the woman from being granted her overnight shelter.
These complaints are about too many City employees who are so entrenched in the system and work in homeless shelters that they lack professionalism and common courtesy toward New York families in need, including families who seek prevention services. We will and should not stand for any policy that denies shelter to any family or person seeking assistance.
A drastic change at this shelter is needed, and a complete overview of the emergency shelter system is required.
According to Mary Brosnahan: “Three years after Mayor Bloomberg promised to end homelessness in New York City by 2009, the number of families seeking shelter is up 11% over last year. The number of families in shelter has hit a new record high, and tragically, the number of children seeking shelter is soaring. In fact, this week there were more than 9,400 families in NYC shelters each night, the highest number in NYC history”.
And I also need to repeat myself: “I see this as another example of a billionaire who is so out of touch and not concerned with the pain and suffering of our communities."
In light of the glimpse of mistreatment and suffering we have already witnessed in the brief time this poorly thought out policy has taken affect, I respectfully urge the City Council of New York to oppose the Mayor's new policy toward the homeless and instead, support families in need.
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