by Neil Donovan, Executive Director
200 families in New York City are part of a new draconian experiment cooked up under the supervision of the new and troubling commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, Seth Diamond. The two-year test, under controlled conditions, divides 400 families into “haves” and “have-nots”. 200 families who “have” are enrolled in the Homebase project, receiving rental assistance, job training and other “wrap-around” services. The 200 families who “have-not” are required to manage without help. (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/09/30/2010-09-30_city_cruel_test_for_poor_families.html)
The mission of the NYC Department of Homeless Services is to “…prevent homelessness wherever possible and provide short-term emergency shelter and re-housing support whenever needed.” DHS should not be in the business of social experimentation. This type of testing has grown over the past quarter century, with mounting concerns about the lack of public debate on research ethics prior to testing. This valid concern is glaringly evident in DHS’ Homebase project.
Experimenters should be troubled by numerous past studies that produced little to no usable qualitative data, but produced negative effects for participants that exist far beyond the studies. Project Access, a multistate mental health study (1992-97), which provided housing and mental health services to one group of mentally ill individuals living in persistent poverty versus another group that were left to fend for themselves, had insubstantial findings that were never published. Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were spent affirming the common wisdom that housing the “Haves” helped. But, the tragic lasting toxic effects on the “Have-nots” are still evident, persistent and measureable today.
DHS’ experimentation is fraught ethical lapses, void of the basic application of social justice principles and guilty of infringing on the civil and human rights of 200 families. Nothing shy of the stoppage of this experiment and the immediate and full relief of the 200 “have-not” families will suffice. Those with the least among us, families living in persistent poverty, deserve our cries of outrage and our insistence that DHS get out of the business of harm and neglect and return to its core mission.