Same old woman, different shoe: The housing saga continues

23 03 2011

Monday, March 21st was a rough day in this office. Phones were ringing off the hook. There was also a surge in people being directed to my blog (OK, so it wasn’t all bad) by search terms including the words “Advantage voucher” and “FEPS,” or “Family Eviction Prevention Supplement.”

That’s because letters went out the previous week, informing clients that the Advantage voucher program was ending. No more rent checks would be issued after April 1st. The Advantage program is a program that helped people to move out of shelters and into their own apartments. The idea is that the program pays your rent for two years, then either ends or tapers off, converting into a Section 8 subsidy.

Except, Section 8 is no longer available. OK. And the waiting list for public housing is still years long. Oh, and rent in NYC, even in the Bronx, is still just a bit high.

Did I mention that people were informed of this March 21st? That their rent would no longer be paid as of April 1st? Not, “Oh, we won’t be honoring your two-for-one yogurt coupon.” We won’t be paying for the place that you and your children live.

We had a bit of a heads up at the office. The New York Times (let’s face it, all struggling parents have the time and energy to read the Times cover to cover, daily) ran this article explaining that this was happening due to the city’s financial crisis.

It’s cool. We’re short on funds, so we’re making people homeless.

In case you’re wondering, this is not SocialJerk being dramatic. It’s not my style. (Not entirely true, I was a fierce Little Engine that Could in 1989, but I digress.) The NYC Department of Homelessness website explains that if you have an active public assistance case, and are receiving cash assistance, you might qualify for a rental allowance. It might not be enough to cover your current rent; in fact, it almost definitely will not be enough. But it will be something. If you have sanctions, due to missing a recertification date, or skipping a Back to Work program in favor of attending college, or you only receive food stamps, too bad. Not happening. You are responsible for your rent, and you have a week to come up with it.

Now, SocialJerk, these are adults. Shouldn’t they be responsible for their own rent? I mean, is that asking so much? I certainly pay my own rent!

Shut up. Hear me out. Certainly, independence and self-reliance is the goal. But that’s not what our public assistance system is set up for. It’s set up to give people the least amount of help and comfort for a limited amount of time before cutting them loose. The Advantage program helped a lot of my clients get out of shelters. That’s great. And it paid their rent for a while. Also great. But their excessive public assistance appointments, the constant sanctions and fair hearings, the difficulty getting themselves enrolled in school (b-t-dubs, higher education is actively discouraged) in favor of attending pointless “work programs,” and the hoops they have to jump through just to get their kids into day care? Shockingly, none of this gets people educated and into a job that will pay their rent.

Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you think people deserve this, because their poor women minorities lazy. But a vast majority of these people have kids. And all that money the city doesn’t have? Is being spent on building new shelters. Very cost effective, I foresee no issues with this plan.

I spent a lot of time on the phone yesterday with a 22 year old mother of two. She wound up in a shelter after leaving the abusive father of her children. She got out with the help of the Advantage program. This woman described herself as being “on top of the world” when she moved into a one bedroom apartment with faulty plumbing and broken windows.

She was at her local PA office all day yesterday, missing a day of college classes, trying to figure out what to do. She knows that this is going to interfere with her completing her education, and with her daughters continuing at their current day care. She doesn’t want to return to the shelter, but she doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

This woman doesn’t have until April 1st, because, due to budget issues, the Department of Homeless Services started missing rent payments for her a few months ago. Now the arrears are her responsibility. She’s missing school, and almost forgot that it was her youngest child’s third birthday today, because of all the stress.

But really, the mom is irresponsible. That toddler doesn’t deserve presents or cake.

You can think what you want about these types of programs. But to tell people that they’ll be helped, to promise them a service, to provide them with something as basic as a place to live, and then yank that away with minimal warning, is cruel and inhumane. To go after people who are too busy, too overwhelmed, to wrapped up in struggling to survive to protest and call attention to their plight, is wrong.

New York social workers are now in the position of receiving these calls, and having to tell people that there’s nothing to be done. I knew the system was broken before, but it never hit me in this way.

It’s our job to fight this.

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21 responses

23 03 2011
melissa

If there is anything that I can do, like come to a protest or write to my congressman, please let me know. This choice by the city/goverment is harsh and inhumane. Wow is really the only way to describe the situation. Wow!

24 03 2011
socialjerk

Thanks for your concern! This issue has not gotten a lot of attention, so I think writing to congress people to at least let them know that voters are upset would be a great step. I haven’t heard about anything big being organized, but I’m going to try to get on it and I will keep everyone updated.

23 03 2011
Fi

I totally agree with you. People are continually put in no win situations when they are already down.

Multi billions in CEO payments, and nothing for people who need a small leg up. It’s insane to treat people like this.

When will people like Donald Trump realise his wealth is at the EXPENSE of the poor.

Come back Robin Hood!

24 03 2011
socialjerk

Exactly. This is happening in the same city where Wall Street execs got their bailouts. It’s so offensive to see where our priorities lie.

23 03 2011
Nectarine

Wow, I mean, just…wow. I’m sorry, I am just so glad that this is not happening where I live/work. What a mess this will create! I can only imagine. Wow.

I really can’t think of anything reassuring or positive to say. I’ll go away now.

24 03 2011
socialjerk

It will definitely be a mess. But maybe we can deal with it and maybe keep similar things from happening elsewhere. I’m not terribly hopeful, but we’re all trying to keep it together for the clients!

There’s definitely not much to say, but it’s nice to hear that other people are outraged and see that this is a bad idea 🙂

24 03 2011
Carolyn

OMG! There are no words to express the horror I am feeling for the people of New York at this time. I tried to picture what would happen if suddenly the Calgary Housing Company (main provider of subsidized housing at home) suddenly closed the doors. And this is a city of only 1 million. OMG! (It bears repeating! Am sending many hugs your way ‘cuz baby, you’re going to need them.
{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{socialjerk}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

24 03 2011
socialjerk

Hugs are always needed and appreciated. It’s a pretty scary time. One client’s eviction was just delayed, and hopefully will be stopped altogether, so we’ll just have to continue to see how things go.

25 03 2011
Meredith

This is totally, completely and utterly brutal. Hang in there, and find a way to retain home so you can lend it to your people when they need it most!

25 03 2011
socialjerk

Thanks for the encouragement (and for reading)! I am definitely trying.

25 03 2011
DorleeM

This is totally outrageous… the problem is that the poor don’t have the voice/power to raise a loud commotion and so the government gets away with cutting their benefits.

You are trying your utmost to help and must feel that your hands are completely tied…

Perhaps Bill Gates would be willing to use some of his foundation money to help impoverished New Yorkers? He is so generous with people in need abroad…

Sending you a big hug…

25 03 2011
socialjerk

Exactly the problem. One of my clients put her name down to be included in a class action law suit over this, but that’s really all she has time for, between working and trying to fight off her own eviction. Fortunately my legal represenation (which is how I refer to my lawyer cousin) and I are discussing some ideas for action.

I would love for someone like Bill Gates to step in and fix things. But what bothers me is that I really don’t believe that this is about money. I feel like our financial crises are just an excuse. We always have money for what we prioritize. And like I said, the city is now spending it’s money on building at least 70 new shelters. It’s just so ridiculous and offensive.

26 03 2011
cb

This is horrific. It makes me so angry. And I thought we had it bad (although to be honest, given half a chance this is the way our government is heading). I think this needs to be shouted out again and again. I think the way that people without means are marginalised in our respective societies is a poor reflection on us all – not that my thoughts will do anything.
As you say, it isn’t’ about money, it’s about a mindset that blames people who have less and that is a massive failing of the capitalist system. And it costs so much more over the long term in so many ways.

26 03 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 11 | Fighting Monsters

[…] already written a post about why I am marching today but this post by SocialJerk about the situation regarding housing in New York opened my eyes. This is where we are […]

26 03 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 11 | Daringsearch

[…] already written a post about why I am marching today but this post by SocialJerk about the situation regarding housing in New York opened my eyes. This is where we are […]

26 03 2011
Allison

The program I work for as well in NYS is also seeing similar cuts with little to no warning either. A lot of my clients have a housing subsidy through the program and there have already been talks that this is the next thing to go. There have been talks as well about transferring their subsidy over to Sec 8 but like you said, Sec 8 is pretty much closed everywhere.

It’s so bad out there in terms of financial resources. Something radical needs to be done to fix our broken system(s).

5 04 2011
socialjerk

I really feel like it’s all about priorities. I’m not a financial wizard (or even a regular Hermione-style wizard, unfortunately) but there does seem to be money available for what we deem to be truly important. The social support programs are the first to go. I’m not entirely sure about the answer, but there needs to be some transparency. I just can’t believe that the city is telling people, don’t worry, you’ll get section 8, or FEPS, or whatever, and giving people the runaround until it’s too late. It’s just so unfair.

It is good to hear from other concerned professionals, though!

27 03 2011
m.

thank you for writing this.

5 04 2011
socialjerk

Of course! Thank you very much for reading.

28 03 2011
kelsey

Thanks for writing this post. As an MSW student working in Child Welfare right now, this was important for me to read. It could happen and is happening everywhere and anywhere.

5 04 2011
socialjerk

Thank you for reading. It is scary the extent to which this is going on everywhere, and a lot of people aren’t hearing about it. Good luck in your masters’ program!

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