A new city program aims to put money in the pockets of New Yorkers in exchange for housing their homeless friends and family. Dubbed “Home for the Holidays,” the initiative (first reported by the Daily News) could take 5,000 families out of the city’s overcrowded and extremely expensive shelter system, which currently houses over 60,000 people each night, including almost 24,000 children.
The new program will compensate the families and friends of homeless families depending on their need, with hosts not on public assistance receiving up to $1,800 depending on family size. Those on public assistance will see the difference between their assistance and their rent made up by the program. Both host and client families will each receive a $500 gift card when the family moves in.
“This is a very reasonable approach to a situation where the city has to be doing as much as possible,” said Shelly Nortz, the Deputy Executive Director for Policy at the Coalition for the Homeless. “The city is spending double the amount keeping families in shelters that it will now instead be paying out to these host families, while also fostering the type of social support that young families need.”
Many families in the system have found themselves living in hotels rented out by the city, at a taxpayer cost of $40,000 per family each year. The hotel rooms also lack kitchen units or any of the comforts standard housing would provide. The program is an extension of a similar initiative last year that placed 1,000 homeless veterans in standard housing, which the city considered a success.
“This new City effort will reconnect homeless families with families and friends, assisting them to permanent housing and saving taxpayer dollars directed toward addressing homelessness in New York City,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks told the Village Voice in a statement.
While the city’s homeless shelter population has been skyrocketing since the early-nineties and reached record levels under the de Blasio administration, City Hall has insisted that the problem would be even worse if it had not taken aggressive action in getting people out of shelters and into supportive housing. The “Home for The Holidays” program would figure to be the largest attempt yet by City Hall to not only stop the increase in the shelter population, but actually begin to reduce it.
“This is the stimulus we need to finally change the upward curve on homelessness,” said Nortz.
Nortz adds that many families in the shelter system have already tried to double or triple up with family members and friends before entering the shelter system, but the payment from the city might help alleviate strains that made the prior arrangements impossible.
“Maybe now instead of a couch or floor, these families get a bedroom,” Nortz told the Voice. “Before there was just so much burden on the host family. Now, they have more options, and for the city to pair it up with the holiday season, where everyone is stretched for resources, is just smart.”
The city declined to say whether the program would be expanded if it was deemed successful.