City Hall's Latest Bad Idea About Homelessness

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    City Hall’s latest edict on the homeless is neither fair nor sensible nor humane.

    Mayor Bloomberg’s deputy, Linda Gibbs, wants to charge them rent for staying in a shelter -- if a family member is working. It seems like a crazy idea. The 8,500 families with children in shelters are among the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The motive behind this new policy is ultimately to make these people self-sufficient  -- but it’s highly doubtful that this bureaucratic decision will make it happen.

    Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless told me: "It’s a deeply misguided plan. It will result in families having to stay in shelters longer, in taxpayers having to pay more. Nobody wins."

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    A City Hall spokeswoman blames the new policy on the fact that the state disallowed $2.4 million in funding for New York City because the City was not collecting rents.

    Deputy Mayor Gibbs told the The New York Times that one of the administration’s immediate goals is to have homeless families pay rent while they are in shelters. She thinks this policy will motivate families to find jobs and permanent homes.

    Markee says that’s absurd. "The greatest incentive is to have families save money so they can find a place to live and get out of the shelter system."

    There are 36,000 people in the city’s shelter system and nearly 8,500 are families with children.

    One state legislator, Democratic Senator Daniel Squadron, wants to add a provision in the state budget to prevent the city from charging rent for shelter. "The goal for homeless families is moving out of homelessness," he says. "Charging rent is beyond perverse."

    For more than three decades I have been covering the plight of the homeless in New York. This seems like the craziest idea yet. Despite our economic troubles, with unemployment hovering around 10%, we inflict a new burden on the people least able to pay. And ultimately it will be the long-suffering taxpayers who will have to pick up the tab as the homeless who can’t afford the rents are routed back to the shelter system.