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Open Letter to NYC Department of Homeless Services

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Action Alert, Blog

To: Ms. Joslyn Carter
New York City Department of Homeless Services

We read the NY Times story about the Bronx Parent Housing Network shelter and the allegations of harassment by the former director in February 2021.  The National Coalition for the Homeless is concerned that the repeated allegations were made over a long period of time and no one seems to have acted on them until the New York Times front page story.  We know that the City is under court supervision to provide shelter to everyone who seeks assistance, which has led to an explosion in shelters and the funding of shelters.  The National Coalition for the Homeless is concerned that the system has become so huge that it needs a complete overhaul and is beyond mere agency personnel changes or updating standards to have any impact on protecting the end user. 

It seems as though there are broader community wide policy changes that need to occur in order to stop the tide into the system and make the time that a person is without housing as short as possible. We recommend looking at a complete overhaul of the homeless social service system to prevent discharges from subsidized housing through eviction as well as medical facilities including drug treatment and mental health facilities into the shelters.  We support increasing the local housing subsidy to those struggling with homelessness so that they have more options in the market and could receive a subsidy that beats or at least matches the federal Housing Choice Voucher program. Shouldn’t the goal of the homeless shelter system in New York be to decrease the time spent in the homeless social services to the shortest time possible?  We believe that the goal could be written into every contract to get those seeking assistance out of the shelter/housing assistance programs as soon as humanly possible?  Maybe an incentive package for the homeless assistance industry for moving families into stable housing in under 30 days?

We understand from local advocates that you have set up an impressive system for input by current members of the homeless community to provide input to the Continuum of Care funding, but we also understand that these are only a fraction of the homeless assistance funds in New York City.  We ask that you consider expanding the oversight by homeless people to include all homeless social service funding and constructing a peer network in which those using the facilities could receive help from graduates of the programs.  This could be a model for programs from around the country and it would stem criticism of this giant bureaucracy unresponsive to the needs of its constituents. We are not asking for the hiring of a consultant who will spend the next year with focus groups to prevent sexual harassment in the shelters, and in the end will produce $1 million poster that says “Sexual Harassment is Wrong—If you see something say something.” We all know that sexual harassment is not acceptable especially in a shelter serving domestic violence victims, and we all understand that women who have few choices are especially vulnerable.  From our perspective, we see a need for reform within  government that failed to set up protections, and once there were allegations, failed to respond quickly?

We understand that the Department of Homeless Services is reviewing the situation with the Bronx Parent Housing Network and will work with a caretaker CEO to make changes. NCH is asking that this incident prompt a larger look at shelters and housing for those experiencing homelessness to transform them back to short emergency services and not long term housing solutions.  We hope that you will look at the entire system to make dramatic changes so that anyone entering the shelter system is protected from predatory behavior and has access to a process to report abuse that will result in immediate actions. We have some recommendations:

  • Build into the contacts an incentive system to move people into housing within 30 days of presenting.
  • Limit intake restrictions so that the process is simple and speedy without barriers to access or a long questionnaire that includes a detailed history.
  • Work with local advocates to implement a city wide ban on government funded institutions discharging anyone into a shelter. 
  • Increase all local housing subsidies so that the family/individual can afford housing at the market rate and not be stuck in housing that pays the landlord less than market rates. 
  • Reduce hostile discharges from the shelter system.  The discharge policies for homeless social services should be focused on restorative justice model and not a punitive system that results in a high number of evictions.  Force a high bar with much bureaucracy and greater transparency with the goal of moving people into a better situation instead of so many lateral moves or discharges onto the streets. 
  • Work with groups like Picture the Homeless or Urban Justice Center to collect and report feedback from those using the homeless social service that would result in meaningful oversight. We are not asking for token input of 1 or 2 homeless individuals but real empowerment of leadership groups to provide real involvement by those who have experienced homelessness. This entity needs to be staffed by those who have experienced homelessness and supported by public funding.  This so called “homeless ombudsman’s office” should be visible within the social service system to accept complaints and have the authority to act on those complaints.  
  • A comprehensive review of all agencies policies and procedures to assure that there are tough standards against harassment of clients or staff.  There are good models available and every social service provider should have strong policies with clear consequences for those who violate these standards. No need to contract with a consultant.  We are asking for common sense protections to be put in place for every group receiving public money.
  • A new project to hire currently homeless individuals as so called “mystery shoppers” to report directly back to the Department of Homeless Services on the facilities and care that residents or clients are receiving. 
  • Once a problem is discovered there is due process for the agency, but the investigation and adjudication must be swift and consequential.  We believe these new policies should be published and that complaint process be transparent with the specific names withheld but all other information be released to the public. 
  • Again work with grassroots leadership development groups such as Picture the Homeless or the Urban Justice Center to provide current and formerly homeless individuals a meaningful role in deciding on local priorities for funding. These community leaders with lived experience should be consulted on how resources are divided within the community.  They should have a bigger role than the other communities of interest such as other homeless service providers, government or housing providers. It is our experience that when consulting people who have utilized the shelter system, the reliance on congregate living facilities is greatly reduced.  No one wants to have to sleep on a cot in a gymnasium without privacy because it only adds to the trauma of homelessness and strips a person of their dignity. 
  • Finally, the National Coalition for the Homeless was founded by a group of homeless and formerly homeless people in New York and Washington DC, and for our 40 year history we have always attempted to demonstrate the power and wealth of experience of those who have survived homelessness.  To that end, we have always recommended the importance of peer networks to ending homelessness.  We believe that for a large metropolitan area there should be a safe place for people currently experiencing homelessness can go to learn from those who lived through the trauma of homelessness.  We believe that there is no greater use of public resources than a mentoring network of trained individuals with lived experience who can help people who have recently lost their housing navigate the complicated system and can help to avoid the pitfalls or dead ends that often slow a person’s ability to find stability.  

We would be happy to set up a meeting to discuss any of the issues we have raised.  We are not trying to criticize your work, but we only offer an outside perspective.  We all want to see a better environment for the people we both serve.  We all want to reduce the trauma associated with homelessness and to fund projects that we would be willing to see a relative effectively utilize.  Thank you for all your hard work in protecting fragile populations in our society. 

Sincerely,

Donald Whitehead

cc: Mayor Bill DeBlasio

NCH applauds passage of the American Rescue Plan

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

Congress has voted to enact the American Rescue Plan and President Biden signed it into law today! The legislation includes nearly $50 billion in essential housing and homelessness assistance, including over $27 billion for rental assistance and $5 billion in new funding for states and cities to provide housing stability for tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness.

The $27 billion for rental assistance, combined with the $25 billion provided by Congress last year and a separate $5 billion for utilities in the American Rescue Plan, can eliminate the over $50 billion of rent and utility arrears that renters have accrued during the pandemic and will enable longer-term housing stability for some renters. This success would not have been possible without your incredible advocacy and the unwavering leadership of congressional champions!

The $1.9 trillion relief package provides broad based relief. This new law will: 

  • Extend enhanced unemployment benefits through the summer. 
  • Give millions of people a desperately needed cash infusion of $1,400. 
  • Expand the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low- and middle-income people. 
  • Fully fund vaccine distribution. 
  • Extend nutrition assistance for hungry children and families. 
  • Provide housing and utility assistance to keep people in their homes. 
  • And deliver aid to states, communities, tribes, and territories to cover safe education in the pandemic, maintain critical services and prevent job layoffs. 

This new law will cut childhood poverty in half. This new law will provide a critical lifeline for millions of people and families who have lost jobs and wages during the pandemic. And, it is vital to fully vaccinating the U.S. population. 

National Coalition for the Homeless Statement on Vaccinating People who are Unhoused

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday February 28, 2021, to discuss the third vaccine approved for emergency use against the spread of the COVID-19. He provided the grim reality of this highly infectious and dangerously adaptable virus, and he urged Americans to take whichever vaccine becomes available to them when they become eligible.

The National Coalition for the Homeless supports experts like Dr. Fauci and the health care professionals at the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) who are recommending that all those experiencing homelessness and those serving homeless people take whichever vaccine is available as soon as possible. COVID-19 has decimated fragile populations in the United States especially members of minority populations such as African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans.  Any level of protection against this killer is going to be essential to protect the homeless community. 

NCH Executive Director, Donald Whitehead, receiving his first COVID vaccine dose.

To that end most of our staff are people with previous experience with homelessness, many either have been, or are in line to be immunized against the coronavirus. We trust the scientists and hundreds of thousands of hours of research, oversight and testing that went into developing these vaccines. It is not worth the risk waiting for the one shot from Johnson and Johnson. We urge our friends who we serve every single day to get the first shot offered. We implore that all those working in the shelters and social service networks in the United States seek out the first vaccine available to them. We need everyone to get the vaccine as soon as possible so that we can return to finding solutions to all the other barriers facing the population.  We need you to be healthy and capable of receiving that key to the front door of a brand new apartment when it is ready for you.  

In the words of our friends at the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council (NHCHC), experts who have the trust of the homeless community,

COVID-19 vaccines are an essential part of ending this pandemic, but there are many challenges to ensuring successful and equitable vaccination campaigns. A number of key factors will influence the success of these campaigns for people experiencing homelessness and the providers who serve them. Health centers and homeless service providers should be taking action steps now to create an intentional operations plan, an effective communication and engagement strategy, and broad community partnerships to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available to everyone.

Click here for more information from the NHCHC. There is an easy to use dashboard and local resources available to local doctors and health care professionals.

Please do your part to keep our community safe: get the vaccine as soon as you can!

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