Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:31 p.m.
The reality of just how serious New York City's homelessness problem can been seen daily across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. Dozens of people stand in line outside of the homeless drop-in center Open Door just after 5 p.m. daily to secure a place to sleep inside on chairs.
Open Door is slated to close in March in order to save the city a mere $1 million this year. It is the city's largest 24-hour drop-in center. The announcement comes during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget address and is one of several proposed cuts to save the city money.
Evidence as to why the mayor wants to close Open Door can be seen by the well-dressed yuppies who scurry past the center during the after-work commute or the towering million-dollar condominiums that appear to be vacant across the street.
Many that are homeless also frequent the pizza parlor that stands across the street from Open Door that offers 99-cent pizza slices and 50-cent donuts and coffee.
One homeless man outside of Open Door told the AmNews that he had been homeless only for a week after he was put out of his apartment for lying on his application for Section 8 housing. He was paying only $250 a month for rent for an apartment that cost $1,000 a month.
"It would be really bad," said the man, who was waiting in line on the eve of the recent blizzard. "A lot of these people have nowhere else to go. I mean, they will probably get referrals, but there aren't that many places that will take people. It wasn't always like this, but since the economy went bad, more people are homeless."
The man described the conditions of Open House as a place where people go when there are no other options. He said that people secure spots on chairs in order to sleep. Many people bring several bags with them.
Those who don't make the deadline and miss out on getting a spot often line the streets sleeping outside of Open Door, even in weather as severe as the recent snowstorm.
Another man described the difficult setup of bathroom and shower facilities, where there are only two toilets for men and few working showers.
Open Door is one of six drop-in centers in the city sponsored by the city's Department of Homeless Services (DHS). The center offers hot meals, laundry facilities, clothing, medical care and social services for single adults. Adjacent to Open House is Covenant House, a center for homeless youth.
According to DHS, case managers will work to find other places for homeless clients at Open Door.
In response to Bloomberg's recent budget address, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has taken a stance against the mayor in closing Open Door. Along with the closing of childcare centers, de Blasio said the budget places a burden on the homeless.
"In the coming months, my office will be working with the mayor's office, the City Council and advocacy groups to restore some of these resources while limiting spending and maintaining our city's fiscal solvency," de Blasio said.
The public advocate added that cutting down on homeless services is not the best idea during the current economic recession. Last month, de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs to preserve vital homeless services.
De Blasio also recommended that a local law or regulation be enacted that stops referrals of homeless persons to dwellings that fail to meet basic health and safety standards.
In recent years, homeless New Yorkers have moved into "three quarter housing" as opposed to the shelter system. Three quarter housing has been deemed dangerous because of the poor conditions in illegal residential buildings. Many consist of overcrowded boarding houses.
"Our city budget is tight, but that does not excuse ignoring those who bear the greatest burden in this recession," de Blasio said. "I hope the administration will work with us to adopt new solutions to address this growing problem, instead of continuing mistakes of the past."
According to the homeless advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, as of November 2009, there were over 39,000 homeless people living in shelters in New York City. Over 7,000 were single adults and over 16,000 were children.