Been down so long…

It’s nobody’s ideal situation to be counted part of the “working poor”.  Still, as we all know, bad things happen to good people and especially in this economy we’ve all had friends and neighbors lose their jobs, lose their homes, and face a very long road back.  And the recent budget battles and cutback have only made things worse.  

First up is a story from WNYC, NY’s premiere Public Radio station.  It outlines a report from the Coalition for the Homeless that says over 113,000 of our friends and neighbors were forced to turn to NYC’s homeless shelter system during FY 2010.  For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the absolute highest number recorded since the organization started tracking such things back in 1982.

It’ll not come as a shock to anyone that the high number is due to economic circumstances, but may come as a shock to realize that 38% of those entering the shelter system are kids.  Used to be, families were moved out of the shelter system and placed into subsidized housing ASAP, but with the city out of housing vouchers, unlikely to get any from DC anytime soon, and with cuts to State funding for families needing housing assistance, families established in apartments are returning to the shelter system.  This costs the City $36K/year per family, for which the city could stick the family in a doorman building in Manhattan’s Garment District.

The article ends with Seth Diamond, Commissioner of Homeless Services saying “the city will continue to put the emphasis on work and employment as a means of getting people out of shelter.”

Our next article comes to us from City Limits news.  Remember that emphasis the city’ll place on work and employment as a means of getting people out of the shelter?  Yeah, about that…  Not so much.

Welfare recipients are requires to spend a certain amount of time doing work activities, typically a couple days a week doing job training and search activities, the other three enrolled in a Work Experience Program.  WEP jobs don’t pay, don’t have sick days, and rarely if ever lead to full-time employment.  If it sounds like a busy work job, that’s because it is.

To actually bridge from welfare to full-time work, they city does offer transitional work programs where the workers get an actual wage and benefits, pay taxes, and in some cases join a public employees union.  These transitional workers are employed by the City Parks department, the Sanitation department, even by HRA which oversees the program.  Some 20% of these workers later transitioned into full-time employment with the host agencies.

Too bad the state budget cuts eliminated $5,000,000 of funding from these very successful programs, combined with the reduction in federal stimulus spending, making these programs operate at a much reduced level.  “Once again,” said HRA commissioner Robert Doar, “the state is continuing its pattern of withdrawing support for services to the poor.”

We’re left wondering if Commissioner Diamond knows the troubles being had by Commissioner Doar.  Taken in totality, one department is passing the buck to another, and of course it’s families and kids who pay the price.  Nobody wants to end up unemployed and in a homeless shelter, and most everyone who does wants to get back on their own two feet.  Others may feel differently, but we at NYCC think that’s one of government’s essential services: Helping those less fortunate help themselves.

If you feel the same, we’d love to hear from you.

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