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City Leaves Queens Homeless – QNS.com

City Leaves Queens Homeless

Shavon Long doesnt fit anyones stereotype of a homeless person. She works dutifully five days a week as a medical assistant, takes care of her 6-year-old son Tequan and has never before taken a penny of public assistance.
"I never thought this would ever happen to me," said Long, 23, who last lived in Springfield Gardens. "I always believed if you worked hard and did the right thing that you could never end up on the street."
Long and her son are part of the burgeoning ranks of the Citys homeless. They are also part of a record number of homeless mothers and children adrift on the streets and in the shelters of the five boroughs.
A startling two-thirds of the Citys shelter population is comprised of children and their parents. In raw numbers, that translates to 6,500 families or 21,567 kids and parents who dont have a place to call home. This figure has grown by more than 1,000 families since last July alone.
"The average New Yorker thinks of a homeless person as an alcoholic man sleeping in a doorway," said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. "That stereotype is misplaced. The average homeless person today is more likely a hungry 5-year-old looking for something to eat."
As of October 2001, there were a total of 29,498`homeless people in New York City, according to the Department of Homeless Services. This figure is an increase of one-third over the number of homeless in 1998 and a 19 percent increase over just one year ago.
Queens Homeless
While the problem of homelessness is not as pronounced in Queens as it is in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, there are still hundreds of former Queens residents who have been left out in the cold.
The number of family shelters and hotels in the borough has increased 33 percent since September 1998, while the number of families in Queens facilities has jumped 35 percent during that time, from 666 families to 902.
And in several days of interviews at Queens shelters and at the Emergency Assistance Unitthe Bronx office that intakes all of the Citys new homeless familiesone-time Queens residents, including many mothers with kids in tow, recounted the horrors of their homelessness.
"I had to leave my home because my husband was beating me and threatening to kill me," said Veronica Hercules, formerly of Far Rockaway, who along with her 3-year-old daughter Destiny has been homeless for a year. Being homeless, said Hercules, has been almost as bad as being abused.
"The shelter I was staying in was filled with mothers and children. But the rooms were covered with rats and roaches and nobody cared. They dont treat you with respect when youre homeless."
Virtually all the homeless interviewed complained about the way they were treated at the Emergency Assistance Unit.
"My baby and I have been here for three days sleeping on the floor," said Dorothy Aristide, of Rosedale, clutching her 2-year-old son Tahlik. "If you ask someone here a simple question, they laugh at you. They treat you like you arent even human, just because youre homeless."
Anthony Jackson lost his apartment in Jamaica after the attack on the World Trade Center claimed his job. Flanked by his pregnant wife Sandral, and children Issac, 4, and Anthony, 9, Jackson was despondent.
"I have given them all the paperwork they asked for and they still havent found a decent place for my family to live," he said. "I thought the City cared about the victims of Sept. 11?"
At least 79,000 New Yorkers lost their jobs in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. One study stated that at least one-third of the lost jobs were low wage. Homeless advocates say its too early to tell how many of those workers were made homeless.
Why So Many?
National housing experts suggest several possible explanations for the burgeoning of the homeless populations in New York City and other major American cities: higher housing costs during the economic boom; the recent economic slowdown; and the tendency of landlords not to accommodate tenants on subsidized programs.
"More people are coming in on the front end and less people are coming out the back end," said Robert Mascali, first deputy commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services. "Landlords are reluctant to accept Section 8 [government rental] vouchers. Its like a 1-2 combination."
Mascali said that the City has doubled the incentives it gives to landlords to rent apartments to homeless with Section 8 grants to $4,500 for a family of four.
Still, many local homeless advocates say that the Giuliani administration has done much more to hurt the homeless than to help them.
"Over the last eight years, the amount of permanent housing for the homeless, including children and their families has decreased annually," said Steven Banks, deputy attorney for the Legal Aid Society and counsel for the Coalition for the Homeless. "The result is that a bottleneck has developed in the shelter system where families are languishing in a temporary shelter for 11 months or more."
During Mayor Giulianis eight years in office, the City spent an average of about $320 million a year on housing, compared to nearly twice that much, $630 million a year, during the Dinkins administration. During the last year of the Ed Kochs tenure in Gracie Mansion, the City spent an unprecedented $1.06 billion on housing.
Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg promises to make the creation of affordable housing a top priority.
"The Mayor-elect plans to increase the amount of affordable housing by reducing costs, updating building codes and encouraging private development," Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler told The Queens Courier.
For 21,000 homeless moms and their kids, more housing cant come soon enough.
"People who arent rich deserve a place to live too," said Shavon Long. "People think that the homeless are all on welfare, but Ive worked all my life. I never thought I would ever be homeless. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."

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