Government Lies, Corruption and Mismanagement
Housing Homeless Youth Poses Challenge for Mayor de Blasio
During the mayoral campaign, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would see to it that all homeless youths had beds. But after advocates for the homeless filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of illegally denying young people shelter, just before he took office, the mayor has surprised them, they said, by fighting the case. “It’s incredibly disheartening,” said Kimberly Forte, a supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which filed the lawsuit in the waning days of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure in 2013. “We’re not seeing a new way of thinking about young people when it comes to homelessness from this administration.”
Housing Homeless Youth Poses Challenge for Mayor de Blasio
By MIREYA NAVARRO, NY TIMES, MARCH 27, 2015
Uncertain future for New York Housing Program
Lijuan Hartfield often caught up on sleep on the subway, at friends’ apartments, sometimes at a 24-hour McDonald’s.
“Embarrassing,” he said. “And I have to buy something.”
Eighteen years old and until recently homeless, Mr. Hartfield said shelters for young people always had a waiting list, so he spent his days figuring out where he would spend his nights. Once, he said, he sought refuge in a drop-in center for homeless adult men with mental illnesses.
“I slept in a chair with other people sleeping in chairs,” he said. “Poverty will really take a toll on your mental health.”
During the mayoral campaign, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would see to it that all homeless youths had beds. But after advocates for the homeless filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of illegally denying young people shelter, just before he took office, the mayor has surprised them, they said, by fighting the case.
“It’s incredibly disheartening,” said Kimberly Forte, a supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which filed the lawsuit in the waning days of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure in 2013. “We’re not seeing a new way of thinking about young people when it comes to homelessness from this administration.”
As the city wrestles with an overall homeless population of more than 60,000, young people pose a challenge not just in terms of providing shelter for them, but also in providing the right kind of shelter to lure them off the streets. And the question of how old is old enough for an adult setting has emerged as the issue blocking a settlement.
The federal class action lawsuit alleges that the city is violating state law by not having enough beds in youth shelters, which can collectively house fewer than 500 people a night.
Administration officials said that the mayor is not backing off the promise that he, as well as his Democratic opponents, made at a candidates’ forum in March 2013. But the administration argues that those between the ages of 18 to 20, a large age group among homeless young people, are not entitled to a youth-specific shelter and have the option of the much wider network of shelters for adults.
The administration said the problem was not necessarily financial. One issue, both city officials and shelter operators noted, is that youth shelters don’t have the space to quickly expand. Another is that young people move in and out of the streets and are hard to count.
“The administration is really committed to providing as many beds as needed,” said Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the deputy mayor for health and human services.
Placing 18 to 20 year-olds in adult shelters, which already house hundreds of people in that age group, most of them single parents, eases the city’s burden of coming up with more youth beds. But social workers who deal with this population say it is not the place for them.
Some have been rejected by their families because how they identify sexually; some are escaping violence or drug use at home. Many feel preyed upon in adult shelters and have special needs for services youth shelters provide, like counseling and family intervention to get them back to school, work or a safe home as quickly as possible.
Without housing, some studies show, many wind up trading sex for a place to sleep.
Jonathan Diaz, 20, in his room within the transitional living program at Covenant House.
Mr. Hartfield often hangs out at the Apple Store in the Meatpacking District where he checks email and social media. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
“If you want to prevent cycles of homelessness, cycles of drug use, of transactional sex, you need to separate them from the adult population and put in the services to stabilize these kids,” said Dr. Mary McKernan McKay, director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University.
Precise numbers for the homeless youth population are not known because young people are highly mobile and many couch-surf among relatives and friends, stay out on the streets or return home. But in New York, state figures show more than 5,000 people were turned away from youth shelters in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, for lack of beds.
Officials at Covenant House near Times Square, the largest youth shelter in New York City with about 200 shelter beds and another 140 spots for longer-term residential stays, say sexual predators prowl outside for young people who can’t be accommodated. The shelter serves those between 16 and 21 and turns away about 75 people a month.
Tanzina Mosammat, 19, who has been at Covenant House since December, is getting help finding a job as a store clerk or restaurant hostess. She said she left home because her Bangladeshi father was set on arranging her marriage to a cousin. She and her boyfriend stayed for two months in an adult shelter in Queens where they could hear the couple next door fight violently.
“We had to call security because the boyfriend put a rope around her neck,” she said.
Jonathan Diaz, 20, who said he slept at a girlfriend’s after leaving his Bronx home and later moved to Covenant House, said he avoided adult shelters because of what he’d heard other young people say.
“A bunch of drug addicts. The smells.” he said.
State funding for youth shelters has lagged over the last seven years, said state Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan who is among those leading a push in the legislature to include more than $4 million in the state budget this year for 1,000 more shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth.
“There’s a misconception that they leave willingly, so why should we be paying for this,” he said of the sentiment among some colleagues in Albany. “A lot of these kids are thrown out of their homes or leave because it’s dangerous.”
The legislators got a boost from the singer Miley Cyrus, who has brought attention to youth homelessness nationally and wrote to Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders this month in support of more money.
Advocates have praised the mayor for adding 100 youth shelter beds in his first year in office. It also provided money so the Ali Forney Center, a drop-in site for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in Harlem stays open 24 hours.
But the mayor’s preliminary budget for 2015-16 does not add any more beds. That may change by the time the budget is finalized this spring, said Deputy Mayor Barrios-Paoli.
Mr. Hartfield, the 18-year-old, said he had lived with his grandmother on the Lower East Side but left home because of constant quarrels with her. As he traveled around the city, mostly on his feet, with calluses to show for it, he knew where to go for showers and meals. He checked email at Apple stores and kept documents and clothes at a friend’s. He went to stay this month with his father upstate, where he has gone in the past for a while before leaving again for the streets.
He said he was trying to find permanent housing so he could go back to finish high school and then on to college, he said, where he’d like to study music, art, astronomy and philosophy.
“As soon as I get a place to stay, my whole life is in front of me,” he said.
But his resolve sometimes wavered.
“Every time one good thing happens, three bad things happen,” he said.
Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, he wrote: “Who thought I’d amount to this?????”
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