Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Leaves NY Homeless Devastated

Superstorm Sandy Devastates NY City's Homeless Population

The homeless population of New York City was more than what the public facilities could handle before Hurricane Sandy; today the resources have been stretched farther than anyone could have imagined.

Before the storm, New York had more than 47,000 chronic homeless being - sheltered—more than any other US city. Advocates for the homeless have waged battles with the city to open up affordable housing opportunities in the thousands of “warehoused” properties in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Warehousing” is a legal practice wherein property owners allow their residential buildings to sit, unoccupied, until property values rise and the rents go up. It is estimated that the more than 3500 vacant buildings in New York could house upwards of 70,000 people, while the nearly 2500 vacant lots could be developed into housing for more than 100,000.

Temporary Resident Struggle to Find Shelter

The rise of newly homeless after Hurricane Sandy caused a frenzy of activity in order to create enough shelter space for everyone whose homes were no longer habitable. Schools and college campuses were turned into hastily constructed evacuation centers in order to provide safe havens, but had to be dismantled in order to resume classes, so many of the evacuees were distributed to armories, where dormitories had been temporarily installed. Others were shuttled to Samaritan Village shelters, which were designed to house substance abusers. Many facilities had no provisions for children and babies. Others had to sequester the mentally unstable chronically homeless from the rest of the population. Now, most of the residents of these temporary shelters have been relocated to local hotels, but because many no longer have jobs or sources of income, it is unclear where the temporary residents will go after the hotel rooms are no longer being paid for.

Distinction between homeless population and terminal homeless

The Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services declared that there is a distinction made between the homeless population that resulted from Hurricane Sandy and the terminal homeless. The shelter standards that were in place to address the homeless population before Hurricane Sandy do not apply to centers for the “temporarily” homeless. However, now that the hurricane victims have been moved and the scope of the problem has been assessed, it is not clear how the city plans to proceed. The hotel accommodations were handled under the provisions of a city contract with the American Red Cross, but food vouchers were not a part of those provisions. Many people who are being housed in hotel rooms that would cost $300 per night do not have the money for food.

As city officials continue to evaluate the plight of the city’s displaced, solutions will hopefully begin to slowly emerge. It was already announced by the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner that food vouchers will soon be added to the Red Cross shelter contract, which will helpfully assist the many people who still have nowhere to go.

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