Working Homeless People in New York City

Introduction

In August 2019, the authorities of New York City declared that, in the nearest future, working homeless New Yorkers living in shelters would save the third part of their income using a special account. This policy is now widely discussed in New York City with reference to its potential advantages and disadvantages for homeless individuals (Slattery, 2019). Furthermore, the necessity of this change in the city rules indicates the inadequacy in the current governmental policy followed in New York City to address the problem of working homeless people’s payments for shelters. It is important to conduct a detailed problem assessment, the discussion of the key stakeholders, and the analysis of available solutions to the issue.

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Problem Assessment

To analyze the options for addressing the problem, it is necessary to define it clearly. Additionally, it is necessary to evaluate the importance of the problem with reference to its size, scope, and impact. The existing policy also needs to be determined along with the problem development within a certain period of time. Finally, the overall impact of the problem on a certain group of the population in New York City should be assessed to provide the background for the further discussion of the issue and possible solutions.

Problem Definition

The currently observed problem is that working homeless people in New York City will be required to set about 30% of their regular income as savings while using the account without free access. This situation makes working homeless New Yorkers rather vulnerable as they will not be able to use funds from their savings accounts because they will be maintained by the city authorities (Kully, 2019). Funds will be available only when these people leave a shelter or prove they’re moving to permanent houses (Kim, 2019; Slattery, 2019). Furthermore, if homeless New Yorkers will not follow the policy, they can lose access to shelter services.

It is possible to determine two underlying problems influencing this situation. Firstly, this city requirement is a result of providing homeless people in New York City with the exception regarding their payment for shelters. According to the New York State law, the homeless people living in the state are required to pay for shelter services, excluding New York City (Kim, 2019). Currently, this approach is viewed by the city authorities as inappropriate, and they have proposed reasonable changes (Slattery, 2019). Another underlying problem is the lack of shelters and houses for low-income people in the city to cover their needs. According to Kim (2019), the decision to make working homeless save part of their income is an ineffective solution to their problem because of the overall impossibility to afford permanent housing. Thus, the current situation can be seen as based on two important problems related to homelessness in New York City.

Measures of the Problem

The scope and impact of the problem can be discussed with reference to the visions of the proponents and opponents of a new policy. According to the Coalition for the Homeless (2019), each night, about 61,000 individuals come to shelters, and among them, about 17,940 are single adults, when referring to the data for July 2019 (Figure 1). The focus is on the statistics for single homeless people because the proposed amendment to the rule will first influence single users of shelter services, and later, the rule will be applied to families.

The number of single homeless persons in NYC shelters.
Figure 1. The number of single homeless persons in NYC shelters, July 2019 (Coalition for the Homeless, 2019).

Additionally, the number of single adults using shelter services in New York City tends to grow in contrast to their income that remains to be lower than the average income of adults in the city. Thus, working homeless people usually earn between $10 to 15 per hour, and this sum does not provide them with opportunities to rent apartments (Ricciulli, 2019; Simone, 2019). According to the estimations made by Simone (2019), an individual is expected to earn about $31 per hour to rent a small one-bedroom apartment in New York City. From this perspective, the requirement to save about 30% of the income of working homeless people can limit them in covering their daily needs.

Existing Policy

The discussed problem is associated with the recent changes in the rule of staying in shelters for working homeless people and creating savings accounts for this group of the population in New York City. The effect of these changes on working homeless individuals can be unpredicted and rather negative because of limiting their resources. This problem is related to the realization of the principles of the 1997 New York State law, according to which the homeless in shelters need to pay rent (Main, 2017). This law provided the grounds for the formulation of the Rules of the City regarding the homeless. Furthermore, the principles of treating the homeless in New York City and the state are also regulated by the decisions related to Callahan v. Carey (1979) (“The Callahan legacy,” n.d.). Thus, the problem is connected with the amendment for Title 31 of the Rules of the City, according to which homeless New Yorkers were not required to pay rent for shelters since 2010 (“Title 31: Department of Homeless Services,” 2019). These existing policies serve as a legal background for discussing the currently observed problem.

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Problem Development and a Timeline

The problem involving working homeless New Yorkers became actively discussed only in August 2019, along with the release of a new rule or requirement promoted by the Department of Homeless Services in New York City. However, the problem has its roots in 1997, when the State of New York adopted the law requiring homeless people living in shelters to pay rent for staying there (Main, 2017; “Title 31: Department of Homeless Services,” 2019). In 2010, New York State adopted the adjustments to the law, according to which New Yorkers were exempted from paying for shelter services.

In 2017, the five-year plan to cope with the homeless crisis, which is known as Turning the Tide on Homelessness, was released by Mayor Bill de Blasio. This plan is important to be mentioned because one of its goals is to increase the number of shelters in the city (Department of Homeless Services, 2019). Furthermore, in 2018, the government included the requirement for making savings by working homeless in the state budget of 2018 to address the issue of New York City’s exemption (Kim, 2019). In August 2019, the city administration released the amendment for Title 31 of the Rules of the City that is associated with the Income Savings Plan program developed by the Department of Homeless Services.

Impact of the Problem

The program known as the Income Savings Plan and proposed by the Department of Homeless Services has been adopted only recently, and there are no data about the actual effects of the rule of opening savings accounts. On the one hand, the plan can have positive effects on working citizens of New York City who live in shelters because of opportunities to save resources for permanent housing (Department of Homeless Services, 2019). This program is viewed as an appropriate alternative to paying rent for staying in shelters (Slattery, 2019). On the other hand, according to Kully (2019), those working homeless people who cannot afford to pay rent also cannot afford to make savings to improve the quality of their life. However, if they do not deposit the part of the income, they can be prohibited from staying in a shelter (Ricciulli, 2019). The first group that will be impacted by the changes includes single working adults who do not receive cash assistance and who must deposit a third of their income to the account maintained by the authorities. Homeless families will be affected by the changes in the law in 2020.

Stakeholder Assessment

Referring to the examined problem of changes in the rule of using shelters in New York City for working homeless people, it is possible to identify stakeholder groups that are responsible for addressing the issue. These key parties, which can influence the problem development and resolution, include the Department of Social Services and its commissioner Steven Banks, the homeless, the Coalition for the Homeless, and Mayor Bill de Blasio. It is important to discuss the role of these stakeholders in the resolution of the problem and policy development.

The Department of Social Services

The key stakeholder, which is in a position to participate in policy decisions and responsible for addressing the issue, is the Department of Social Services that includes the Department of Homeless Services. Steven Banks is the commissioner of the Department of Social Services, who supervises programs related to homeless services. From the commissioner’s perspective, the developed program, Income Savings Plan, is effective “to help people get back on their feet,” and it “helps people with long-term stability” (Slattery, 2019, para. 8). Thus, making savings, working homeless people will feel more protected instead of paying rent for shelter services. The current issue of supporting a new rule for working homeless New Yorkers is a priority for the Department of Homeless Services in spite of the opposition of advocates of the homeless (Slattery, 2019). The interest group that can influence Banks’s views includes organizations supervising shelters that can be more interested in receiving rent payments.

It is possible to state that the problem of making homeless people create savings accounts maintained by the authorities is politically important for Steven Banks and the reputation of the Department of Homeless Services. The reason is that the public’s dissatisfaction with the adoption of this rule can lead to decreasing their loyalty to the Department of Social Services and their decisions. Thus, promoting the necessity of the rule, Banks identifies such short-term outcomes as the improvement of the current policy regarding the procedure of residing homeless people in shelters (“Title 31: Department of Homeless Services,” 2019). In the long-term perspective, more homeless New Yorkers will receive a chance for permanent housing and leaving a shelter (Slattery, 2019). The involvement of the commissioner of the Department of Social Services in resolving the problem is critical because he is responsible for adding changes to Income Savings Plan.

Working Homeless of New York City

Working homeless New Yorkers regard the problem as affecting their rights to use shelters and to choose how to spend their financial resources. For this group, the issue is a priority because the implementation of a new rule will directly affect the quality of their life (Kully, 2019). Still, the homeless can receive the support of interest groups, including the Coalition for the Homeless, to address their basic needs. As a result, the homeless want to revise Income Savings Plan to provide them with more opportunities to use their funds and savings accounts as their short-term goal (Simone, 2019). The potential long-term outcome is associated with the availability of more shelters and properties for low-income groups (Kim, 2019). Still, the homeless cannot directly influence the process of finding the solution to the determined problem.

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The Coalition for the Homeless

The interests of homeless New Yorkers, including working individuals, are represented in these debates by the Coalition for the Homeless and Giselle Routhier as the policy director. According to Routhier, the overall idea behind Income Savings Plan is appropriate to influence homeless individuals’ living conditions. Still, the problem is that these people have no home because they cannot afford to rent in New York City. Therefore, Routhier does not support the Plan in its current form (Kully, 2019). Recently, this issue has appeared to be discussed as a priority for the Coalition for the Homeless. The reason is that more homeless New Yorkers will potentially require support and free housing in the future if they cannot deposit 30% of their income. The position of the Coalition for the Homeless is supported by other advocacy and interest groups promoting the rights of the homeless in New York City and other regions (The Legal Aid Society, for example).

While discussing the problem from the perspective of the homeless and Giselle Routhier, it cannot influence the leadership in the Coalition directly. However, it is important to concentrate on the expected short-term and long-term outcomes of the problem resolution from the point of the Coalition for the Homeless. Routhier and her organization are interested in decreasing the number of homeless people on the streets as a result of implementing the rule as their short-term goal (Kully, 2019). Therefore, the focus is on improving support for those people who cannot afford to deposit their income. Long-term goals are associated with creating a working rule that will not discriminate against the homeless depending on their income and their status as single individuals and having a family (Ricciulli, 2019). Thus, the involvement of this stakeholder is essential for developing an effective solution to the problem as the experts working in the organization can influence the evaluation of the final version of the rule.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

From the perspective of de Blasio, Income Savings Plan is an appropriate solution to address the New York State law regarding the procedure for working homeless individuals to stay in shelters. The reason is that this Plan can contribute to the progress of de Blasio’s program Turning the Tide on Homelessness (Department of Homeless Services, 2019). Thus, according to critics, de Blasio did not address his goals in overcoming the affordable housing crisis in the city, and alternative policies are required (Kim, 2019). At the current stage of making Turning the Tide on Homelessness an effectively working program, the resolution of the discussed problem can become a priority for de Blasio. The process can be affected by de Blasio’s relations with interest groups who are focused on further activities of this politician in the position of the Mayor of New York City (Ricciulli, 2019). From this perspective, under the impact of current debates regarding a new requirement, the problem resolution can directly affect the political career of Mayor Bill de Blasio; thus, the issue has a political liability.

It is possible to state that the goals and visions of de Blasio and the Department of Social Services are the same. Both groups are oriented toward such short-term outcomes as the revision of ineffective policies in the field and such long-term outcomes as the provision of stability for the homeless (Ricciulli, 2019). In this case, it will be possible to make certain steps in overcoming the homelessness crisis in New York City. Therefore, de Blasio’s participation in the process of developing this policy is important to affect the realization of his Turning the Tide on Homelessness program.

Discussion

The currently observed debates in New York City on the topic of changing Title 31 of the Rules of the City with the help of the Income Savings Plan represent the opinions of two opposing camps. Policy-makers and the Department of Social Services are on the one side, and the homeless, their advocates, and the Coalition for the Homeless are on the other side. Currently, the position of the city administration is not supported by the public, and it is necessary to determine certain options for responding to the issue: the rule revision and the provision of affordable housing. According to the supporters of changes in the policy for homeless New Yorkers in shelters, it is necessary to address the New York State law and amend Title 31 of the Rules of the City (Kim, 2019). As it was stated earlier, following the amendments, working homeless New Yorkers must set the third of their income to a special account monitored by the authorities. This practice will guarantee to save a certain sum of money for the homeless to allow permanent housing in the future.

On the other hand, the advocates of the homeless and activists in the media point at some dominating issues. Thus, the rule does not solve the problem of housing for homeless individuals, the requirement restricts an individual’s budget, and the amendment is discriminatory in its nature, making the homeless save their resources. Since the root problem is the lack of shelters in the city and the other problem is the necessity to address the New York State law, the parties propose two options. They are the revision of the rule along with the improvement of the Income Savings Plan and the development of the affordable housing project.

Proposal to Revise and Improve Income Savings Plan

The first option that is actively discussed by the advocates of homeless individuals is the necessity of revising the rule and improving the statements in the Income Savings Plan. The purpose of this proposal is to protect the interests of working homeless people. Giselle Routhier noted that it is necessary to reconsider the program to avoid the situation that this new policy can be harmful to the homeless, who will become vulnerable and limited in financial resources (Kully, 2019). Additionally, Marc Greenberg from Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing noted that the concept provided in Income Savings Plan is good in its nature, but it lacks flexibility (Kully, 2019). Thus, the discussion and solution of homeless people’s situations require a personalized approach because they spend many resources on their daily living in shelters.

As a result, the requirement of making savings should be optional for working homeless individuals and include the possibility for investments with their further growth. Both Routhier and Greenberg support the proposed policy, and their comments are oriented toward improving the program to address the needs and interests of homeless New Yorkers in the context of a new situation (Kully, 2019). This option can be viewed as most preferable to the majority of stakeholders because it involves fewer changes in the currently proposed policy, and fewer resources are required to realize the project.

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This proposal makes the government of New York City fully accountable for resolving the problem associated with the changes in rules for staying in shelters. The Department of Homeless Services will be responsible for the organization of revising the rule and the development of new amendments. It will be possible to implement a new policy that will address the problem with compliance to the state law and the focus on the interests and needs of the homeless in New York City (Ricciulli, 2019). From this perspective, it is possible to state that this proposal will decrease the negative effect of the problem on single working homeless people who can become victims of the new policy in the future.

While assessing the efficiency of the idea to revise and improve the Income Savings Plan, it is possible to note that this project can be implemented with the help of minimal resources. When comparing this option with the development of the affordable housing project to address the widespread problem of homelessness in New York City, this proposal seems to be rather feasible. The costs of revising the recently developed rule are lower than the costs associated with the design of a new project to improve the realization of Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City. Additionally, the likelihood of strong political opposition to this proposal is minimal because it involves the revision of the existing policy without rejecting it directly and developing a new variant (Collier & Collier, 2012; Kim, 2019). Furthermore, it is possible to address the interests of different stakeholder groups while promoting the changes that can be appropriate for both the government and the homeless.

As a result, the proposed option can be effective in not only minimizing but also eliminating the problem. This outcome is possible because the current problem is associated with the risks for working homeless people to remain without shelter services if they cannot deposit the part of their income. If the requirement developed by the city administration would be revised as optional, it is possible to avoid the risks for homeless individuals. Nevertheless, if ineffective revisions and amendments are made, there are still high chances for the homeless to be limited in their opportunities to choose between saving or not their resources.

Proposal to Focus on the Affordable Housing Project

Those advocates of the homeless who support strict positions regarding the resolution of the problems associated with the issue of homelessness in New York City promote their idea that only active measures can be effective. According to the views by experts cited by Kim (2019), the currently observed attempt to address the New York State law and change the rules for homeless people sleeping in shelters cannot have adequate outcomes. Thus, the possibility to set resources to savings accounts cannot address the problem of the lack of affordable accommodation for low-income people in New York City. As a result, it is necessary to further work on the affordable housing project in the context of de Blasio’s program Turning the Tide on Homelessness or as an independent initiative (Ricciulli, 2019). From this perspective, the proposal can be discussed as holding the government completely accountable for resolving the problem to address the interests of the public.

This proposal is promoted by the activists and supporters of the rights of the homeless in New York City to overcome the potential negative effects of the discussed problem on working homeless people. If this initiative is developed by the government in the context of Turning the Tide on Homelessness to further achievements made by de Blasio in this sphere, it is possible to expect decreases in the number of homeless individuals on the streets of New York City. According to Kim (2019), the issue is in the fact that the number of homeless in the city increases annually, and the number of individuals requiring shelter is critical today. As a result, available accommodations in New York City cannot meet the needs of all single homeless adults and families seeking shelter for one night or a longer period (Kully, 2019). Thus, “of the total 25,299 affordable housing units created, 2,682 were for the homeless, a figure that the Coalition for the Homeless said was still inadequate” (Kim, 2019, para. 7). Consequently, this problem needs to be addressed as the priority of the government.

This complex solution to the general problem related to the homelessness crisis in New York City can be effective in addressing the issue discussed in the paper. The reason is that this solution can prevent working homeless individuals from depositing their resources if they do not want to do that as a result of revising the rule (Simone, 2019). If there are enough apartments for low-income persons and shelters to accommodate all vulnerable categories of the population, it is not necessary to focus on developing alternative strategies to help the homeless manage their resources. From this perspective, experts discussing the problem view the complex approach as more efficient to resolve the issue and guarantee the realization of the plan by de Blasio.

However, when discussing the possibility of implementing this proposal, activists, and advocates of the homeless express ideas that the realization of this proposal can be associated with many barriers. The key obstacle is the high cost of the project that requires establishing not only additional shelters for the homeless but also buildings with apartments for low-income citizens of New York City. This project, which can be organized in the context of the Turning the Tide on Homelessness program, seems to have significant positive outcomes for homeless people (Ricciulli, 2019). Still, on the other hand, the city administration can lack the required financial resources and investments to realize it because many points of de Blasio’s plan regarding the changes related to the homeless were not completed.

Focusing on the probability of the political opposition in relation to this proposal, it is possible to state that some representatives of the government can be against the reallocation of funds to realize the project. Furthermore, there can be debates regarding the overall necessity of the project of affordable housing for low-income and homeless people in New York City as an independent program (Kim, 2019; Kully, 2019). The ineffectiveness of the Turning the Tide on Homelessness program, which is accentuated by experts and critics, can provoke questions regarding the need for additional projects that cannot be realized within the limits of the city’s funds.

When assessing the overall ability of the proposed option to minimize the problem of making savings accounts obligatory for the homeless, it is necessary to state that this project can lead to minimizing the issue. However, as the proposal does not affect the problem directly and within a short period of time, it is almost impossible to expect the complete elimination of the issue. Since the focus is on the ways to make the rule regarding the savings account optional rather than mandatory, the proposed decision can be ineffective in addressing this particular issue in the most efficient manner.

The Preferable Option

When comparing the two proposals to address the issue discussed in the media and literature on the topic, it is possible to state that the first option seems to be more preferable than the second one. The analysis of the situation indicates that the revision of the current formulation of Title 31 of the Rules of the City can contribute to resolving the problem with many effects on the homeless population. In this case, minimal costs will be necessary to eliminate the frustration of those working homeless people whose funds for daily needs can significantly decrease as a result of the mandatory rule (Kully, 2019). Thus, the key problem is in the fact that the government plans to make the requirement obligatory for all working homeless individuals in New York City, regarding them as equal in their needs.

Still, in spite of the fact that these persons are equal in their rights to use shelter services, they can have rather different daily needs to be covered by their income. In this case, the opportunity to open savings accounts can have both positive and negative effects on their life and the possibility to have permanent houses in the future (Kully, 2019). From this perspective, relying on the views of the experts from the Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates of the homeless in New York City, it is advisable to revise the current amendment (Coalition for the Homeless, 2019). In this case, it will be possible to achieve certain positive outcomes for the homeless in relation to organizing their life in a shelter without discriminating against their rights.

Conclusion

The changes in Title 31 of the Rules of the City associated with the release of the Income Savings Plan by the Department of Homeless Services have led to debates in the society and media. Public discussions are devoted to the necessity of making the homeless deposit 30% of their income. The assessment of the problem and the analysis of existing policies with reference to experts’ opinions allow for determining options to pay attention to and resolve the issue. In this context, the revision of the recently adopted amendment seems to be an important step to overcome the negative effects of the changes in the rule.

References

The Callahan legacy: Callahan v. Carey and the legal right to shelter. (n.d.). Web.

Coalition for the Homeless. (2019). Facts about homelessness. Web.

Collier, C., & Collier, J. L. (2012). Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York, NY: Blackstone Publishing.

Department of Homeless Services. (2019). Turning the tide on homelessness in New York City. Web.

Kim, E. (2019). Working homeless would be forced to save money under controversial NYC proposal. Gothamist. Web.

Kully, S. A. (2019). Mixed feelings about mandatory savings for NYC homeless. City Limits. Web.

Main, T. J. (2017). Homelessness in New York City: Policymaking from Koch to de Blasio. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Ricciulli, V. (2019). NYC homeless in shelters will be required to save part of their income for permanent housing. New York Curbed. Web.

Simone, J. (2019). Today’s read: Grim new report shows rent is unaffordable in every state. Web.

Slattery, D. (2019). City to require working homeless shelter residents to save around 30% of their income for future housing. New York Daily News. Web.

Title 31: Department of Homeless Services. (2019). Web.

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