I’m a preventive worker. We’re supposed to prevent families from being separated.
We do that by providing the family with counseling, approaching them from a strengths-based perspective and utilizing the family systems approach. This way we can reorganize their dysfunction, create appropriate boundaries and subsystems, and send them on their merry way.
And that’s exactly what everyone comes into our office hoping for.
Well, that and a place to live.
We’re in the midst of a housing crisis. We’ve all heard about the foreclosures (If you haven’t, I will for once suggest going to sources aside from SocialJerk for your news.) People living beyond their means, with mortgages they can’t afford, bubbles finally bursting. I have some friends and family who were only able to afford houses because of those foreclosures.
I mean, not me. I’m a social worker. I’m still paying off the sandwich I’m eating.
I’m not talking about people who were able to buy a home. I’m talking about people for whom that isn’t even a pipe dream.
So many people referred to my office come in asking for help with housing. They’re facing eviction, or they’re in an overcrowded apartment. Five of the families I work with are coming out of or going into the shelter system. I work with one family with six children who live in a one bedroom apartment.
Question: How do you fit three cribs into a one bedroom apartment?
Answer: You can’t!
I think I messed up the punchline.
For these families, the number one goal, greatest hope, is NYCHA. Public housing.
Public housing is important. But it’s rough. You don’t choose it if you can avoid it.
When that’s the dream, you know that the reality is bad.
All of my families who are not currently in a NYCHA apartment are on the waiting list. A waiting list that doesn’t seem to be moving. They wait for a year, and then are overjoyed to get an appointment, only to be crushed when they find out that it’s just an interview.
They have to wait another year to hear about apartments for which they are eligible, and then wait for one to open up. In that time, they might have added children to their family, so they have to wait even longer for a bigger apartment.
Well, in the meantime, there’s always Section 8, right? To help pay the rent on a regular apartment.
Only problem is, there is no Section 8. Not for people who don’t already have it. But New York is having a little budget problem.
We have no money.
At first, Section 8 was only accepting new applicants who had to move due to domestic violence. Then they were only honoring existing vouchers, for people who hadn’t managed to find an aparment yet.
Shortly after, even people with vouchers were out of luck.
This presented a problem for my clients who had gotten out of the shelter system with the help of Advantage vouchers. Advantage programs are intended to help people coming out of shelters to become self-sufficient, by providing rental assistance for a year. At the end of that year, the voucher program ends, and tenants turn to Section 8.
Because they can’t get Section 8, my clients were told that their vouchers would continue paying their rent. And sometimes this happens. DHS will sometimes send in a few hundred dollars. When the mood strikes.
As a result, one of my young mothers owes $5000 in rent, another owes $4000. Both have received eviction notices, and no one at DHS will even talk to them. They’re far from alone.
One has already decided to return to the shelter system she escaped the previous year. She and her five year old son are less than thrilled.
The other is still fighting to stay in her apartment. I remember when she first moved in with her two and four year old daughters. She told me that having her own place after leaving an abusive boyfriend and spending months in a shelter made her feel like she was, “on top of the world.”
We turned to her former worker back at the shelter, who had helped her a great deal with a program called Homebase.
People are being turned away from Homebase and told to do for themselves, supposedly as a control group in a study, to see if helping people…helps.
But given what I see on a daily basis, it seems like that might be just another excuse.
My client, and her now three and five year old, have to wait for another eviction notice. Then hope that they will qualify for the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement, better known as FEPS, and formerly Jiggets. (I wish they stuck with Jiggets, because at least that is fun to say.)
We’re hoping that FEPS will help, even though, like everyone, they’re also short on cash.
All these programs and acronyms might have driven me mad.
Everyone I talk to who does not work in this field (there are a few, yes) has no idea things are this bad. There’s still the idea that the government is paying all of these people’s rent, whether they work or not. It just isn’t true.
Is it right, or fair, to tell someone, to promise them, that they’ll be helped? That their rent will be paid, they don’t have to worry? This program is going to help you build your own life?
And then to snatch it away. And not even have to decency (or the balls) to offer an explanation or warning. To pretend like everything’s fine, meanwhile sending hordes of (primarily) women and children into shelters unnecessarily?
I’m not certain what the answer is. But this can’t continue. It is not effective, it is not sustainable.
And it is not right.