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How One Conservative Plutocrat Helped Make 20,000 Kids Homeless

Homelessness in New York has skyrocketed, thanks in part to years of conservative policy predicated on right-wing ideology.

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2. Cut and run.

Still, the administration touted the program as a success, defending it against homelessness advocates and city officials who pushed the mayor to give families priority in federal housing assistance. So it was strange that when the governor of New York cut half of Advantage's funding in March 2011, the Bloomberg administration refused to make up the difference and just killed the program. Around that time the mayor  suggested that poor families were pretending to be homeless to scam Advantage subsidies.“You never know what motivates people," he said on his radio show. “One theory is that some people have been coming into the homeless system, the shelter system, in order to qualify for a program that helps you move out of the homeless system.”

When the city officially cut the program, 15,000 families who relied on Advantage to make rent were informed by letter that they had exactly two weeks to find  other arrangements. An emergency court order forced the city to continue helping families in the program, but when the order was lifted in February 2012, the city abruptly cut off aid to tenants, saddling 7,000 households with full market rent for apartments they'd struggled to pay 30% to 40% on. 

The inevitable return to the shelter of many former Advantage families helped push the number of homeless people sleeping in shelters up to 43,000 in 2012. "In the last 18 months, there has been no housing plan," Markee tells AlterNet.  

3. Spend money on temporary solutions.

Instead, the administration is just frantically opening up more and more emergency shelters. The AP  reports that 10 new shelters for single adults and families have opened in recent months to deal with the crisis. The administration plans five more before the year is over.

The problem with that is everything. Putting up a family in a shelter costs $3,000 a month -- way more than a rental subsidy. Beyond that, studies have shown that not having a permanent place to live is destabilizing and harmful to kids, even if they end up in one of those NYC shelters that so impressed the mayor with their luxury. Homeless kids get sick more often and with stranger and more serious ailments than poor kids who have homes, suffering respiratory infections and digestive infections at significantly higher rates. The lack of safe, permanent housing delays normal  development  and homeless kids have higher levels of anxiety and depression, which often manifest in behavioral problems. 

"If homelessness is hard on adults, for the young, it can be disastrous, starting a slide into a lifetime of problems," a NYT  editorial put it. (It's not entirely clear what the long-term impact of Hurricane Sandy will be on the city's homelessness rates. Right now, families who lost their homes in the storm are staying in hotels paid by the city and reimbursed by FEMA.)

4. Refuse to change course.

The New York City Council has outlined a plan to revive programs proven to reduce homelessness. As Christine Quinn, Annabel Palma and Coalition for the Homeless director Mary Brosnahan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed, "That means returning to the proven strategy of setting aside a reasonable share of open slots in public housing and marshaling valuable federal housing vouchers for those trapped in the shelter system. In addition, a new rental assistance program, modeled on the successful federal voucher program, must be created." 

An assessment of the plan by the City of New York's Independent Budget Office found, "if a total of 5,000 families a year were moved out of shelter through priority referrals for NYCHA and Section 8, family shelter costs would be $29.4 million lower, of which $11.0 million would be savings of city funds." 

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