The Next Steps in Combatting NYC’s Homelessness Epidemic

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New York City is one of the greatest cities in one of the richest countries in world. It’s also where 64,060 people are homeless, the 2nd highest amount homeless rate in the world. The majority of those living in New York’s homeless shelters are families.

While many associate homelessness with drug addiction, general laziness or a supposed “unwillingness” to get a job, Coalition for the Homelessness, a national advocacy group, has identified eviction as a leading cause for homelessness. Eviction rates are inevitably tied to housing affordability, given that evictions happen when families are unable to pay.

Mary Brosnahan, the president and chief executive of the Coalition for the Homeless, has proposed that the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Unjust evictions are widespread. In a number of cases, a landlord has taken advantage of low-income families on technicalities and through harassment, resulting in the loss of the families’ home.

This frequency of the injustice is rooted in the troubling fact that one only has right to free legal representation in criminal cases, not in housing court, which means that many of the low income families who are being taken to court by their landlords simply end up being evicted because they cannot afford representation.

Some measures by the city have been taken in an attempt to alleviate the effects of this particular cause of homelessness. Last September, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that $12.3 million for homelessness prevention services to expand free legal representation in housing court to help thousands of New Yorkers facing eviction stay in their homes, and the city council has even proposed a piece of legislation to make legal representation in housing court a right.

Just this past January, Cuomo put forward his controversial order that anyone homeless on the street be taken to a shelter when the temperature drops below freezing. Additionally, De Blasio has proposed that three-hundred beds be added to New York City’s shelters, but this proposal makes it clear that there is not enough room in shelters, which can only hold so many.

Aside from the filled-up shelters, there is “Uncle A.C.E.”, which refers to the subway lines where many that lack a place to sleep can go “uninterrupted” for the night.

While these steps are all important, perhaps our focus should be on preventing homelessness in the first place, getting to the root of the problem, rather than focusing on short-term fixes.

Image via the mayor’s office.