Broken Safety Net: How New York City Fails Homeless Families

Conservatives love to throw around the argument that Americans are overly reliant on the government. In fact, though, many needy Americans don't take advantage of safety net programs they are eligible for because they have too much pride. And many others are denied access to such programs because of tough eligibility criteria or because they lack knowledge of what assistance is available. 

In other words, for all the people who are relying on the safety net there are many others who need help but aren't getting it -- the exact opposite of claims of a freeloader nation.

Take the example of homseless shelters in New York City. Over the past year only 35% of families with children who applied to stay in shelters were accepted -- while thousands of other families were left to fend for themselves in the harshest, most expensive city in America.

The growing crisis of families who are denied access to homeless shelters is the subject of a new report from the Coalition for the Homeless. It accuses New York of “turning away families who would have previously qualified as it struggles to deal with the surging demand for shelter service.”

Poverty has gone up in New York City for the third year in a row, yet 5 years ago 52% of families who applied for shelter were accepted. The amount of time families stay in a New York City shelter is also on the rise nearly 3 months longer than last year, totaling a whopping 337 days. Clearly, demand is on the rise as supply is dwindling. 

The Daily News reported one classic example of the process of denying families access to shelters, describing the experience of Donnette Sharpe:

Officials rejected her attempt to get into a shelter because they insisted she and her four children could stay with a cousin — though the cousin had just kicked them out. “She told me I had to leave,” said Sharpe, a school safety agent, who has instead been staying in a hotel room with her family. “We have nowhere else to go.” 

Poverty is a crisis of national proportions. In an effort to illustrate the magnitude of this crisis, Demos launched an interactive data visualization, tracking 50 years of national poverty data. It shows the hard truth -- there are millions of families like the Sharpes out there who struggle daily to survive in the supposed “land of opportunity.”  

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