If you look around the average major city with a large community experiencing homelessness, you will be quick to notice these people are often children and elders (many are veterans). It has been 12 degrees(f) and under in NYC...yet so many are stuck on the curb under boxes...if they're lucky. Rising housing costs and additional hoops doesn't help either.
According to Bowery.org , in a city of more than 8.3 million people, nearly one in every 106 New Yorkers is homeless. That's nearly 80,000 men, women and children. * Every night, nearly 2,400 people sleep on the street, in the subway system or in other public spaces. There are over 1 million buildings in NYC, and over 79k are empty.
New York City's shortage of affordable housing has reached a crisis point. The crisis has many causes, starting with the erosion of New Yorkers' purchasing power in the housing marketplace. Yes, in 2021, many were able to seek out what we have been calling "covid prices" for apartments. Units that were usually $3000 were now a little over $1800. Sounds great, right? Except the previous prices weren't always disclosed to potential renters (nor the potential for drastic increase in the following year), and if you didn't know where to look for the information you were sold-out-of luck. As 2022 embarked upon us, many began returning to work and the city. During the same period, the average monthly rent for an apartment in New York City increased by almost 40 percent. Some renters have seen their rents increase by $2000 for their current lease renewal. My rent ,personally, increased of 17% for my lease renewal. Over half of all renters in New York City spend 30% or more of their income on rent and one third of renters spend 50% of their income on rent.
To live comfortably, a resident would need to earn at least $12,135 monthly before taxes. That's pretty steep. If you chose to live in the more affordable Bronx borough, you'd need to earn three times the $1,793 monthly rent rate before taxes, which amounts to $5,379. While rent might be cheaper, you also have to account for the increased of crime in low income areas (In my opinion, it's never okay to steal and abuse another, but people have being doing it due to desperation) On average, to even apply for an apartment you need need to show an income of at least 40-50 times the monthly rent, have a credit score (on average) of 720-750 minimum (unrealistic for non-privileged students), first and last month's rent, a broker fee (which can often cost 15% of the rent or as high as a full months), and a guarantor. Your guarantor has to make 80x the rent to be added to your application, and if you are like me and do not have family at all (or anyone to depend on in that way), you can pay an additional fee to a guarantor company to sign for you (this fee is near the cost of your rent and is not refundable, nor does the global pandemic renters program protect your guarantee).
You might be wondering why anyone would choose to live in NYC in these conditions. Well, it's not just NYC that's experiencing these extremely high costs. Business Insider reports that between October 2020 and October 2021, the average price of an American home went up 18%, according to Corelogic's Home Price Index, which has been the definitive source for the US housing market for 45 years. That's the biggest increase in those 45 years. In short, the entire country is experiencing a housing crisis. I can't speak for why everyone in NYC chooses to live here, but I did because its close to my school's campus, there were good career opportunities pre-pandemic, and I initially planned to apply for a job at the U.N post graduation. No matter what a person's reasons are, sleeping on the streets should not be the option.
Statements like "Why can't they get a job?" , "We have shelters."," These people have issues and are a danger to others", and "These people chose to be on the streets" are often heard from unsupportive community members concerning those experiencing homelessness. While I understand there is a lot of mental health issues so many unhoused experience, they're still deserving of respect and a little understanding. Veterans also put their lives on the line for us, why are we not ensuring that they're not getting lost in the system when they return home?
When I asked around and talked with our local unhoused community, reasons for homelessness among families were: (1) lack of affordable housing ( a big issue when corporations mass buy properties, then drive up costs. This makes it incredibly difficult for others to own homes), (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, and (5) lack of health resources.
"Why can't they get a job?"
Those experiencing homelessness tend to have little-to-no appropriate clothing for job searching.
they have less access to facilities to maintain their hygiene.
they are often unable to get a good night's sleep.
Without an address, it's almost impossible to obtain and keep up with identification cards and mail.
"We have shelters."
Shelters are not secure; often drug ridden (which makes it hard for anyone trying to go through rehab steps)
Those I have asked have stated that their items get stolen and they feel like they're in prison, and that it's almost safer for them to sleep on the streets.
Many shelters are over full.
"These people have issues and are a danger to others", and "These people choose to be on the streets"
Without medical assistance, surely we cannot expect persons who have lost everything to not be negatively affected, especially when society often treats those experiencing homelessness like "social rejects". Mental health care and drug recovery is greatly needed.
While there are those that do scam, most aren't choosing to live on curbs without as much as a blanket and pair of socks. The fear of a few scammers cannot be the excuse as to why we don't help the many in true need.
These are just a small few of the reasons why those experiencing homelessness will find it difficult to prosper. When you add other social issues to the list...it's much worse.
So let's get right to it, solutions. What can each of us do to help? In my opinion, throwing money at the issue isn't a solution at all. We need to get to the ROOT of the problem:
Donate gently used items. We waste far too much in the world. Those odd collection of yeti tumblers (and other brands) that you no longer want would be so loved by the unhoused community. It would make it more possible for them to have warm drinks in the winter and cool drinks in the summer. The same for backpacks, socks, thermal wear, scarves, hats, blankets, etc.
Think before you waste. Thousands of pounds of food is wasted daily. Ugly food can still be cooked. Perhaps we invest in more food pantries.
Affordable housing. Affordable doesn't mean charing $1800 for a 10x13 room. Is it possible for NYC real-estate owners to be required to lend proper units to low income programs (and program runners actually follow up and through)? Affordable also doesn't mean utterly run down. Whether they will admit it or not, the Bronx fires happened because of slumlords leaving their tenants to freeze, which caused them to need heaters. Something I've never understood is why NYC buildings can be called luxury when most don't have bathroom fans or basic central heating/cooling. Unless your unit is greatly updated, rents should not be raised so high. I can't find a legitimated reason why any lease renewal would increase more than 10% of the current rent, especially during a pandemic when job security is so fragile...unless the property owners strictly care more about their profit than their renters.
Utilize the empty buildings. There are thousands of empty buildings all around NYC. Would it really be so difficult to turn a couple of them into proper shelters that offer mental health services, job placement assistance, and transitional housing? I would be the first to volunteer to help serve the community, and others could be paid a living wage as well. Building owners could be presented with a tax break for donating their property.
I do understand that establishing these units may drive down the sale price of houses in the community, but are we truly so greedy that we can't sacrifice and average of 7% mark-down for the well-being of another human?