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UnHomeless NYC

The Brooklyn RailJoseph Masheck, March 29, 2024

How many times have we rushed past the small non-commercial Hudson Guild Gallery, in a public housing project in Chelsea, on our way to some big-bucks exhibition? It now has a show on the theme of homelessness and housing, with works by well-known conceptual as well as unknown artists. If that sounds like something very good for somebody else to see, I have found it more critically stimulating than one might suppose.

The Hudson Guild itself (nothing to do with glitzoid Hudson Yards) is something like a 129-year old free-form settlement house, where normally amateur art is pursued as a social-service activity. Then again, this isn’t just another neighborhood, art-wise. Here, under Director of Arts Jim Furlong, the curators Maureen Connor, Jason Leggett, Tommy Mintz, Robert Robinson, and Midori Yamamora filled the modest space with works by Willie Baronet, Michael Corris, Elena Grachev, Martha Rosler, Hope Sandrow, Vicky Virgin, Sachigusa Yasuda, plus the collaboratives Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and CoHabitation Strategies.

This is by no means the first art exhibition to highlight homelessness, even apart from a more strictly architectural-design emphasis—in general, another ball of wax. Some such shows have had more or less the same seemingly non-institutional title. Intrinsic to this one was Martha Rosler’s largely photographic, but also constructed, mixed-media exhibit Timeline for Unhomeless NYC at Hudson Guild, dated 1989–present, including the ongoing history of her If You Lived Here…, an installation with an activist history of its own, shown in the USA and in many cities abroad. The title If You Lived Here… alludes to privileged US suburban living: billboards along highways or railroads saying, “If you lived here you would be home now,” but here applied ironically to those living on the street. Before, Rosler emphasized the problem (in historical extension of the slum photography of Thomas Annan and Jacob Riis); now there seems more of a thrust to solve it.

Large-looming as well as central to the overall concept here is We Are All Homeless (2022), attributed to Willie Baronet as, so to speak, its authorly collector-in-charge. It displays many inscriptional drawings made by homeless panhandlers on rectangular sides of corrugated boxes. The most frequent word, by far, is “help,” and the next is “hungry.” Individual subtleties have personally formal as well as expressively general interest—including the impulse, as emotionally constrained by the situation, to force a joke. If this weren’t an art gallery it might almost be cruel to be so detached, but I was drawn to a vertical piece using lowercase “l’s” in a stack of three words, as on a button: 

HElP
HElP
 ME.

The “I’s” are so arbitrary, since even people who confuse capitals and lower case write “L”—a wayward usage that might even satirize the current foolish design cliché of dotting upper-case “I’s.” It would be nice to know the name of the actual artist. (Baronet paid each artist, but perhaps with little time at a red light.) 

Read More: The Brooklyn Rail

A Life Without a Home

NY Times, February 24, 2024

Voices from the tents, shelters, cars, motels and couches of America.

A record number of people across the country are experiencing homelessness: the federal government’s annual tally last year revealed the highest numbers of unsheltered people since the count began in 2007. Politicians and policymakers are grappling with what can be done. But the people who are actually experiencing homelessness are rarely part of the conversation. 

Lori Teresa Yearwood, a journalist who lived through years of homelessness, spoke of the ways we discount those without shelter. “Society created a new species of people, and we carefully crafted an image of them: one of broken passivity and victimhood, people in need of constant scrutiny and monitoring,” she said in a 2022 speech. “When we shift and widen the perspective of the unhoused, that’s when things radically change.” Ms. Yearwood collaborated with Times Opinion on this project before her untimely death in September. She understood what many who have not experienced homelessness ignore: that people without shelter have something to say — and often something of great worth — about what it’s like to live inside this country’s cobbled-together solutions. 

That’s why we sent reporters and photographers to different parts of the country to meet with people experiencing homelessness in very different ways. We asked them to fill out surveys, take videos, use disposable cameras and have their children share drawings. 

Whatever led them to homelessness, the people who spoke to The Times want a way out. As the nation debates how to help them, they shared the solutions they want to see.

Read More: NY Times

 POETRY Homeless America

Philip C. Kolin, December 9, 2023

Poet Philip Kolin depicts the plight of the homeless: “They give/American progress a bad name…”

This land was made for you

and me but not for the homeless. 

They must squat on ground 

the length and width of a gravesite–

sleeping on steel slatted beds  

depending on rain to wash their clothes

and the sun to dry their socks. 

 Sometime they live in big-box cartons

that don’t have addresses or locks on , 

they don’t even have doors; and walls 

can shrink into pulp or blow away. 

 Or they encamp in makeshift tents

mortgaged to the wind and hope the Billy 

club cops won’t foreclose. They sleep in vehicles

without wheels and blue tarp roofs.

Once they were RV’s made for road trips;

now they are fugitives from junk yards.

They no longer ask when they can come home

because there is no home. Rents are out 

of their reach; or their hours have been

cut or they had their jobs outsourced to 

another country. Or medical bills have Gurney’d  

them from hospitals to streets. Or their families 

have given up on them. The price of belonging 

is love. They are bankrupt there too.  

Wall Street says they need to stick it out

but out of sight across the wilderness

of the streets; no gleaming cities want them.

They are unshaven, untouchable, uncared for,

 unaccounted for, unacceptable. They give

American progress a bad name; they are

bad for business. 

Philip Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published 15 collections of poems including Emmett Till in Different States, Benedict’s Daughter, Delta Tears, and Mapping Trauma: Poems of Resistance about Black History (Third World Press).

NYC expands 30-day stay limits to single adult migrants in DHS shelters

The Gothamist, Arya Sundaram, Nov 13, 2023

The Adams administration, looking to free up space in the city’s beleaguered shelter system, will begin sending notices Monday to single adult migrants in Department of Homeless Services accommodations directing them to leave within 30 days, City Hall confirmed to Gothamist.

The new round of 30-day notices is part of the Adams administration’s effort to limit shelter stays for an expanding pool of migrants–to free up space for still more migrants coming to New York. 

The city administration’s limits on shelter stays for migrants—30 days for single adults and 60 days for families—previously only targeted those living in shelters run by other agencies, such as the Office of Emergency Management and Health and Hospitals system.

DHS shelters are governed by stricter rules, and bypassing them has previously required waivers from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

DHS will hand out 30-day notices across 14 emergency sites in the coming weeks, as part of the “first phase” of the expansion, according to an email obtained by Gothamist that was sent by mayor’s office staff to local officials

City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak did not provide specifics but confirmed that the city would begin handing out notices to single adult migrants in DHS shelters starting on Monday.

“NYC’s shelter system is at its breaking point, and we continue to work to find sustainable ways to provide shelter for the hundreds of asylum seekers in need continuing to arrive in the city every week,” according to the guidance from the mayor’s office explaining the move.

Migrants getting notices will receive “intensified case management,” with “dedicated staff” helping them connect with relatives, make travel arrangements or transition to “alternate housing,” according to the guidance. Migrants who receive notices are required to leave their current shelters, but are permitted to reapply for placement in another facility.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park announced the plan at a City Council hearing late last month, noting that a “very small fraction” of single adult migrants—about 2,000—were staying in DHS shelters.

Some 140,000 migrants have funneled through the city’s shelter intake system since spring 2022. Over 65,000 remain in the city’s care, including at some 210 emergency sites the city has opened up to accommodate the influx. Some migrants have been in the city’s care for months on end and long before the Adam administration began capping the length of shelter stays.

Read More: The Gothamist

Food pantry visits surge in NYC as ‘perfect storm’ over benefit delays and inflation aligns

The Gothamist, Karen Yi, Oct 13, 2023

Lines for hot meals and free groceries are growing longer, New York City nonprofits say, citing a surge in recent months reminiscent of the worst days of the pandemic when crowds wrapped around the block.

The Salvation Army says they’ve served 53% more meals to New Yorkers in the first nine months of 2023, compared to the same time the year prior. Meanwhile, the Food Bank for New York City is seeing an 8% uptick in average monthly visits since February.

Food pantry providers point to the end of a pandemic-spurred food assistance benefit that gave people extra cash to buy groceries, a record backlog at a city agency delaying public assistance checks and skyrocketing food prices for the growing demand.

“When the SNAP benefit is less or is delayed, then you start to really have problems on top of existing problems,” said Stephen Grimaldi, executive director of the New York Common Pantry. He said they served 30% more hot meals in fiscal year 2023 than the year before.

City data shows more than half the applications for cash assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as SNAP, weren’t processed on time between last July through June of this year, the worst rates reported in at least 10 years, Gothamist previously reported. The city’s Department of Social Services previously said they’re working to reduce delays but are facing an unprecedented number of applications amid staff attrition.

monthly look at the numbers show just 10.7% of the 43,000 cash assistance applications in June were processed on time, according to city data. That’s the lowest rate since 2006. About 30% of cash assistance applications and about 40% of food stamp applications were processed within 30 days as required by state and federal laws.

Read More: The Gothamist

NYC plans to place migrant families with children in congregate homeless shelters

The Gothamist, Giulia Heyward, Sep 10, 2023

Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday said he plans to move some migrant families with children into congregate homeless shelters, a move that would be an apparent violation of the city’s right to shelter laws. 

During an interview on PIX11, Adams said the move would be necessary because so many asylum seekers continue to enter the city’s care. 

“We’re going to have to eventually move women and children into congregant settings,” the mayor said. “Some migrants may have to move out into these outside tents.” 

The city’s right to shelter law — which Adams is fighting in court — bans the city from placing families with children in congregate shelters.

Christine Quinn, a former City Council Speaker who now heads Win, the city’s largest housing provider for homeless women and children, said mass shelter sites are “unsafe and inappropriate” for families with children.

“Think of a gymnasium full of cots — a barrack-style room full of cots — where we house people after a hurricane,” said Quinn. “It doesn’t really work that well for single, homeless people because there is often a higher level of crime — and not as much space for therapeutic or holistic intervention — in those spaces.”

Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday said he plans to move some migrant families with children into congregate homeless shelters, a move that would be an apparent violation of the city’s right to shelter laws. 

During an interview on PIX11, Adams said the move would be necessary because so many asylum seekers continue to enter the city’s care. 

“We’re going to have to eventually move women and children into congregant settings,” the mayor said. “Some migrants may have to move out into these outside tents.” 

The city’s right to shelter law — which Adams is fighting in court — bans the city from placing families with children in congregate shelters.

Christine Quinn, a former City Council Speaker who now heads Win, the city’s largest housing provider for homeless women and children, said mass shelter sites are “unsafe and inappropriate” for families with children.

“Think of a gymnasium full of cots — a barrack-style room full of cots — where we house people after a hurricane,” said Quinn. “It doesn’t really work that well for single, homeless people because there is often a higher level of crime — and not as much space for therapeutic or holistic intervention — in those spaces.”

Source: The Gothamist

Mayor Adams ignites controversy after saying the migrant crisis will ‘destroy’ NYC

The Gothamist, Elizabeth Kim, September 7, 2023 

Mayor Eric Adams is earning praise from Republicans and criticism from members of his own party after telling an audience of Upper West Side residents that the weekly influx of thousands of migrants “will destroy New York City.”

“I’m gonna tell you something, New Yorkers, never in my life have I had a problem that I didn’t see an ending to. I don’t see an ending to this,” Adams said during a town hall event Wednesday night. “This issue will destroy New York City. Destroy New York City.”

“Everyone is saying it is New York City’s problem. Every community in this city is going to be impacted,” he added. “Every service in this city is going to be impacted, all of us.”

Adams’ comments marked some of his most aggressive rhetoric yet on a crisis that threatens to become a potent political issue in a key election cycle. Republicans have blamed the crisis on President Joe Biden and his administration’s failure to manage the southern border.

By Thursday morning, a video clip of the mayor’s remarks had gone viral on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“I don’t care if he’s a Democrat. This is the TRUTH,” said Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican presidential candidate and rising star among conservatives.

Joe Borelli, a Republican city councilmember who represents Staten Island, also amplified Adams’ statements, calling the city “doomed.”

Meanwhile, some progressives — including Bill Neidhardt, a Democratic strategist who served as former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary — likened Adams’ message to that of Trump.

“Let’s drop this demagoguery and invest in welcoming asylum seekers and getting them work,” posted Councilmember Tiffany Cabán of Queens.

Read More: The Gothamist

Op-Ed: Why the federal poverty line doesn’t begin to tell the story of poverty in the U.S.

LA Times, Celine-Marie Pascale, September 24, 2021

Recently released Census Bureau data show that more than 37 million people in America lived at or below the federal poverty line in 2020. That’s 11.4% of the population, and a full percentage point higher than what it was in 2019. 

But the federal poverty line doesn’t begin to tell the story of poverty in the U.S.

Half of U.S. families struggle to make ends meet. They are part of what I call the “uncounted majority,” people who have trouble paying basic bills even though their incomes aren’t low enough to meet the official federal poverty threshold — currently $26,200 for a family of four or $12,760 for an individual.

I’ve witnessed this struggle firsthand while researching low-income communities over the last four years. In cities and towns from California to Kentucky, I met hundreds of working people — from a mix of racial backgrounds — whose real-life experiences highlight the arbitrariness of, and the problems with, the federal poverty line.

People such as Angel Perez, who lives in Oakland and works two part-time jobs for a local school district and helps his father paint houses — and earns less than $16,000 a year. Perez counts himself lucky to be able to live with his father. Otherwise, he would be among Oakland’s more than 4,000 unhoused people.

In southeast Ohio, I commonly met people who worked multiple jobs and who still found it difficult to pay their bills. Michael Chase was one of them. Between two jobs, he works 45 to 60 hours a week and brings home just under $16,000 a year. Neither job comes with health insurance, sick leave or vacation time. He shares an apartment with three roommates — a situation he finds stressful — and still worries at times about making rent.

Yet Chase doesn’t consider himself to be poor. Perhaps more important, neither does the government. In 2020, he was well above the federal poverty line for a single person.

Waiting tables in eastern Kentucky, Jenna Terry earns a pretax income of about $20,000. She lives with her boyfriend, Doug, a car salesman who brings in another $20,000. Neither of their employers offer sick time, vacation or health insurance. The couple have a young daughter, and the $40,000 they make together is nearly double the federal poverty line for a family of three.

Even so, they had trouble paying their monthly bills, which included a high-interest car loan. To reliably cover basic expenses, Terry’s family would need an income of $53,818, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Read More: LA Times

Dear Mayor Adams: Uphold The Right To Shelter

Right To Counsel, August 25, 2023

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to call on the City to uphold the right to shelter in New York City, to swiftly house all homeless New Yorkers, and to provide safe shelter and housing to all, regardless of background. 

We write in solidarity and unity as organizations and individuals that work with homeless NYers in shelters, those on the streets, domestic violence survivors, immigrants, the LGBTQIA+ community, the formerly incarcerated, people experiencing poverty, youth, seniors, families, children, and more. Over the decades and to the present day, countless New Yorkers have used the critical protections of the right to shelter to survive difficult circumstances, from evictions to gentrification to domestic violence.

For more than four decades, the right to shelter has ensured immediate shelter for people in New York City who need safety from the elements and a place to rest their heads. The right to shelter is a basic human right for all people in our City and efforts to curtail that right will disproportionately affect Black and brown New Yorkers, who are far more likely to experience eviction, homelessness, and housing insecurity. It will cause harm and death for many people, and will result in more street homelessness as people who are not able to get into shelter, ultimately end up in the streets. Consequently, people who end up street homeless are far more vulnerable to criminalization for attempting to meet basic survival needs and their belongings are at risk of being taken during sweeps. 

A long-term and humane solution to our City’s pre-existing housing crisis requires that the City act quickly to house homeless New Yorkers, prevent and stop evictions, and use all available vacant housing to move people from shelters to apartments. Our City has had a housing crisis for years, long before recent immigrants came to this City, and we are in the midst of an escalating eviction crisis. Recent data shows some 10,000 warrants of eviction have been executed since the expiration of the eviction moratorium in January 2022. Preventing evictions and housing people living in shelters is the answer to our housing crisis, and it will open up shelter capacity for those who need it.

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NYC’s eviction hotspots: Tracking the 10K removals since moratorium ended

The Gothamist, Neil Mehta, David Brand, August 10, 2023

Evictions take a heavy toll on individuals and families, along with broader communities in a city already struggling to house tens of thousands of low-income and homeless people.

After a pandemic-spurred moratorium on evictions ended last January, certain sections of the city are emerging as eviction hot spots, where property owners ranging from large firms with thousands of units, to small landlords with a single residence are successfully removing tenants.

Usually, people are evicted because they owe back rent. Other times, landlords seek to evict tenants whose leases expired. It could be because they are selling the building, they believe they can earn more from a new occupant or they simply want the existing residents out.

Regardless of the situation, thousands of evictions have a systemic impact on a city and region facing record-high rents and a deepening affordability crisis.

Read More: The Gothamist