Saturday, October 26, 2013

Homeless In NYC

Longing & Living

In an article in The New Yorker, Ian Frazier looks at the increasing problem of the homeless in New York City, which includes families residing in temporary shelters. If there is a statistic worth noting it's this, Frazier says: “In any case, it’s inescapably true that there are far more homeless people in the city today than there have been since 'modern homelessness' (as experts refer to it) began, back in the nineteen-seventies.”

Frazier writes:
Most New Yorkers I talk to do not know this. They say they thought there were fewer homeless people than before, because they see fewer of them. In fact, during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have. There are now two hundred and thirty-six homeless shelters in the city. Imagine Yankee Stadium almost four-fifths full of homeless families; about eighteen thousand adults in families in New York City were homeless as of January, 2013, and more than twenty-one thousand children. The C.F.H. says that during Bloomberg’s twelve years the number of homeless families went up by seventy-three per cent. One child out of every hundred children in the city is homeless.
The number of homeless single adults is up, too, but more of them are in programs than used to be, and some have taken to living underground, in subway tunnels and other places out of sight. Homeless individuals who do frequent the streets may have a philosophical streak they share with passersby, and of course they sometimes panhandle. Homeless families, by contrast, have fewer problems of mental illness and substance abuse, and they mostly stay off the street. If you are living on the street and you have children, they are more likely to be taken away and put in foster care. When homeless families are on the street or on public transportation, they are usually trying to get somewhere. If you see a young woman with big, wheeled suitcases and several children wearing backpacks on a train bound for some far subway stop, they could be homeless. Homeless families usually don’t engage with other passengers, and they seldom panhandle.
The majority of panhandlers are single and male; many become aggressive when denied what they want, having a sense of entitlement. Many suffer from mental illness and substance abuse, and can be a problem in urban centres. Such aggressive and potentially violent people should not have the freedom to roam the streets and harass pedestrians; this is a matter of public safety.

Homeless families, on the other hand, respond differently to their situation. Such families generally remain anonymous, bearing a burden that they are no longer part of general society. In short, there is a general sadness surrounding them and their future, that they are failures, sometimes through making bad personal decisions, often not. Their children suffer. It has been said so many times that it has now become a wear-worn cliché:  it's both sad and surprising that within the wealthiest city in the wealthiest nation, there should remain the problem of homelessness. It is irresponsible and inaccurate, however, to suggest that blame rests solely with Mayor Bloomberg, when there are enough factual  reasons why the number of persons and families without permanent affordable housing has increased.

This fact ought not surprise anyone when one considers what has been happening in America, in NYC and in many major urban centres the last odd thirty years or so. The hollowing out of the middle class, the loss of decent jobs for the least educated, notably in the once-thriving manufacturing sector, the structural changes in family life, the loss of meaning and the resulting isolation and alienation, and the reduction of community social programs (including those associated with mental health) have all contributed, to some degree, to the problem of increased homelessness.

These are some of the reasons, but not all of them; and governments cannot fix all of these problems.

There might be another important point worth making: many working families today are a few pay-cheques away from facing some of the problems that this article raises—not only in New York, not only in Toronto and not only in London—but most everywhere in the industrialized world.

You can read the rest of the article at [New Yorker].