NYC homeless and hungry grows after 9/11

NEW YORK – The number of homeless and hungry in New York City is increasing. The Coalition for the Homeless says the lack of affordable housing, the downturn in the economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have resulted in an all-time high of nearly 30,000 homeless adults and children in city shelters.

New York is not alone. Other large cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, are seeing increases in their homeless populations as well, said Steve Berg, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“We are concerned that the downturn in the economy is going to continue,” Berg said, adding that a continued loss of jobs nationally could lead to a further spike in homelessness. With nearly 80,000 New York City jobs lost following the World Trade Center attack, more New Yorkers can’t afford food – and have turned to already-burdened soup kitchens and food pantries

“The number of people coming here was rather dramatic after the 11th of September,” said Clyde Kuemmerle, programs coordinator for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. He estimated the increase in the hundreds. Hunger and homelessness will mean a grim holiday season for some.

Homeless shelter resident Christina Anderson, a mother of four children ages 5 months to 15 years, fell behind on her $700 monthly rent. Then she started missing work because she lacked child care and because of frequent court appearances related to her eviction. She said she was fired from her $21,000-a-year job at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

“It’s very hard on my children,” Anderson said at a City Hall news conference held by the homeless coalition.

Like Anderson, shelter resident Joseph Franklin wants a job and a place to live. But it’s proven to be a tough task. “I’m running into all kinds of closed doors,” Franklin said. “It’s not easy, it’s not easy at all. At times, when people look at us and sometimes think we could do a little bit better, it’s not our fault. The help is not there ... We’re struggling, struggling very hard.”

Housing families like Anderson’s costs the city $3,000 a month; it’s a little less to shelter single homeless adults, said Patrick Markee, the coalition’s senior policy analyst. Markee said it would have been cheaper for the city to give Anderson an emergency rent subsidy. He said the city should expand programs that provide such emergency grants to keep at-risk families in their homes.

But the major problem is the lack of affordable housing, he said. The number of homeless people has steadily increased in the city since early 1998, and in October, the shelter census reached 29,498 adults and children, the all-time high. Currently, 6,596 families live in shelters and hotels each night.

Markee said the number of homeless on the city’s streets cannot be counted accurately because it changes by season, but he said it’s most likely in the thousands.

Nationwide, the numbers are similarly grim. A March 2000 survey by the Census Bureau found 280,527 homeless people nationwide. The bureau reported that on the first day of the three-day survey, 170,706 people were in homeless and emergency shelters, including 59,000 combined in New York and California.

The increase in the homeless population also has burdened food programs.

“With more people out of work now, the demand of the food pantries has risen dramatically, and they only have enough food to provide a family with about two days worth of staples,” said Kuemmerle, of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

James Berger was one of hundreds of people who ate at Holy Apostles on Monday. He has been getting some of his meals from soup kitchens since he lost his janitorial job over the summer. Berger has been able to share a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with six other people by doing odd jobs, but that leaves little money for food.

“A good job with a good salary is hard to come by these days,” Berger said. “People who complain about their jobs and the long hours should realize how lucky they are.”