Now that the holidays have arrived, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are associated with images of family and friends gathered around dinner tables to share the traditions that have defined their cultures.
But in Queens and the rest of the city, there are thousands of people who are shut out of these intimate rituals because they are living in shelters or on the streets. In fact, the number of homeless surged past the 60,000 mark in the five boroughs this month amid sobering statistics that half of the city’s working poor are hungry.
How to deal with the homeless crisis has been one of the most divisive debates this year, particularly in Queens where City Hall’s plan to rent out rooms for homeless men at the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth has spawned a strong opposition movement. Protesters against the shelter have been joined by elected officials, including state Sen. Tony Avella, who announced he was running for mayor outside the hotel Sunday.
For all the pushback against warehousing the homeless in rented hotel rooms, there have been few concrete suggestions for keeping New Yorkers on the edge from losing their homes in the first place.
One measure, however, promises to be a game changer if passed by the state Legislature.
State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi has proposed a Home Stability Support plan, which would provide rent subsidies for residents facing eviction, homelessness or the loss of housing due to unsafe living conditions or domestic violence.
The Forest Hills lawmaker contends the plan would save taxpayers millions of dollars a year by cutting down the city’s ballooning shelter bills.
In New York City his plan would generate a subsidy of $11,224 per year for a family of three, far less than the $38,460 it now costs to house a family with children in a shelter.
In 1975 Albany drew up a shelter allowance system, which has fallen far short of skyrocketing rents, putting many New Yorkers just a heartbeat away from homelessness. Up until 1975 most families on public assistance had their rents paid in full.
Warning the city faces its worst homeless emergency since the Depression, Hevesi has drawn endorsements for his plan from a growing coalition of lawmakers and advocacy groups, which want Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put HSS in the next state budget.
We must return to being a city where there is housing available for people at all income levels — even those earning the minimum wage. Hevesi’s plan is a major step in the right direction and we hope to see it adopted in 2017.