The holidays bring times of joy, family and celebration. This time of the year also brings cold weather conditions and many displacements for those without a home.
There are 62,306 people in New York City shelters every night, of that number, 24,121 are children and families and 760 are homeless vets.
One of the principal challenges this city faces is where to place the thousands of homeless individuals and families. A new report states that aside from the homeless shelters, the Department of Homeless Services has been making use of hotels to place the homeless as opposed to finding suitable low-cost housing options.
Outrage grows as published reports reveal the huge cost to the city for the hotel stays. The number of hotel rooms booked by the Department of Homeless Services more than quadrupled from 324 in 2015 to more than 2000 this October, according to one report. The city has paid more than $600 per night to house the homeless, averaging $400,000 a night citywide.
“Against a background of a 115 percent increase in homelessness over the last 20 years, we are only using hotels as a temporary bridge until we can open enough shelters to keep homeless children and adults off the street,” said David Neustadt, a representative for the Department of Homeless Services. “This is a citywide problem, and we need the help of all the city’s communities in finding good shelters for families and individuals who’ve lost their homes due to rapidly rising rents and flat incomes.”
Ramona Phelps, 55, is one such individual who finds herself homeless and victim of a dysfunctional system. This year is Phelps’ 10th year on the street. She has been subject to the unwelcome environment of the New York City shelter system, promised low-cost housing for consecutive years by numerous individuals and organizations, and as we roll into the Christmas season, she is still without a home.
The city’s current homelessness state is at its worst since the 1930s Great Depression, according to Coalition for the Homeless. The number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping in the homeless shelter system is currently 83 percent higher than it was 10 years ago. The primary contributing factor for homelessness is the lack of affordable housing.
According to Phelps, her homelessness is largely attributed to gentrification. “I lived in the City College area for 22 years in one of the private brownstones,” said Phelps. “It needed complete renovation and construction. I was supposed to be legally and lawfully relocated into a new one-bedroom apartment.”
According to Phelps, the Ecumenical Community Development Organization and its executive director, Janice C. Berthoud, along with the Housing Preservation Department, were responsible for relocating her. “Back in July 2007, I paid cost service and went to HPD,” said Phelps. “I got a temporary Section 8 voucher, but it expired. They were supposed to be assisting me. They kept showing me apartments in deplorable, horrible and bad conditions.
“The first time the case went into court, I won the case. The judge told them that they had an obligation and responsibility and commitment to relocate me, and get me the new one-bedroom apartment. I won that case and after some time, the court appointed lawyer went back and filed papers for me to be illegally evicted.”
Phelps continued, “I’ve been homeless 10 years, and I’ve lived in the shelter system. When you stand up for your rights they persecute you for it. They will transfer you to some of the worst shelters in the shelter system. I can’t go back in the shelter system, it’s too life threatening for me.”
During Phelps’ search for low-cost housing and organizations to assist her, she encountered an organization called the Center for Urban Communities Services run by Program Director Erica Strand and an assistant director Phelps remembers only as Kyle.
“They transferred me to a shelter in the Bronx that I should’ve never been transferred to because I don’t have mental illness,” said Phelps. “For two years, Erica Strand and Kyle left me out on the street to die. They left me out there in the snow blizzard. I kept asking them why they weren’t giving me my housing. I am supposed to be a top priority and I am disabled.”
The Amsterdam News reached out to Erica Strand’s office, which after failing to provide a response by press time did not provide any comment.
According to Phelps, Goddard Riverside Community Center, which owns buildings and works together with housing organizations to provide low-cost housing has been advertising apartments from September 2014. Phelps was recently discharged from a nursing home after 10 months and finds herself out on the street yet again.
Homeless advocates stress that homelessness is an ever-occurring problem in this city, with thousands of homeless individuals turning to the cold streets, subways and other public spaces. The problem only seems to be getting worse in the city that never sleeps.