Largest Homeless Population The City Has Ever Seen Forces Families To Sleep In An Office - First Time In Ten Years

The City now has the largest homeless population it has ever had, forcing some families to sleep in an office. This is the first time in 10 years that has happened.

But Josh Goldfein, a Staff Attorney in the Homeless Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society, told WNBC that "we're very concerned for our clients any time families don’t get a shelter placement but we’re gratified to hear that the city’s going to take every step to make sure this doesn’t happen again."

News 4 New York at 11
October 1st, 2014 11-12AM

Sibila Vargas, Anchor: Well, tonight the city’s homeless shelters are bursting at the seams. The largest homeless population the city has ever seen.

Chuck Scarborough, Anchor: And with many shelters now at capacity, News 4 has learned that some families are forced to sleep in an office. Here’s Government Affairs Reporter Melissa Russo with exclusive details. Melissa?

Melissa Russo, Government Affairs Reporter (In Studio): Chuck and Sibila, several homeless families with children were left to sleep in an intake center this week for the first time in a decade because of what De Blasio administration officials are calling a capacity crisis in their shelter system.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): Every week, hundreds of families show up on the city’s doorstep, homeless for all kinds of reasons.

Unidentified Woman #1: My grandmother died. I was living with her.

Unidentified Man: My home burned down.

Unidentified Woman #2: I came here on a domestic violence case.

Unidentified Child #1: It feels painful, sad.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): Children pack their belongings in Spider-Man suitcases while their parents apply for a place to sleep.

Unidentified Child #1: ‘Cause we had no place to go.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): But instead of being sent to shelter units with beds and cooking facilities as the law requires, News 4 has learned on Monday night, five families slept on chairs in a basement lounge of a Bronx office building. It’s not set up as a shelter, just an intake office where the city processes applications for shelter. But the family arrived late and shelter space was tight in an unfortunate twist, officials say ninety vacant shelter units had not been properly cleaned. In a statement, a city spokesman said, ‘We’re reviewing a rare occurrence when five families stayed overnight at our intake center while we processed their late arrival applications. These families were thoroughly assisted and provided with a safe environment at the facility and were placed in an appropriate shelter hours later.’ Shaneeka Harrell says she was there Monday night and felt badly for the other families who were stuck all night without beds.

Shaneeka Harrell, Spent the Night at the Shelter: They just expect you to deal with that as if, like, we’re not human. We’re homeless. We’re not animals.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): Monday’s situation, while limited in scope, is a reminder of decades of contentious court battles dating back to the 1980s over the city’s housing of families on benches and floors of a previous intake office known as the Emergency Assistance Unit. At the time, one of the most vocal critics of the practice was city councilman Bill De Blasio.

Bill De Blasio, Mayor: Homeless New Yorkers who need shelter are entitled to decent, safe, inhabitable shelter.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): Josh Goldfein of The Legal Aid Society represents homeless families. He couldn’t say for sure whether Monday’s situation violated those five families’ right to shelter.

Josh Goldfein, The Legal Aid Society: We’re very concerned for our clients any time families don’t get a shelter placement but we’re gratified to hear that the city’s going to take every step to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Melissa Russo (In Voiceover): City homeless officials say they’re working very hard on contingency plans, lining up hotel rooms and planning to open new shelters to avoid a recurrence, but communities are quick to protest shelters in their backyards. Monday night, after waiting many hours for a shelter, this mother of two left the intake office taking her children to sleep in their car parked up the block.

Unidentified Child #2: I was worried that, like, someone could come in the car or something.

Melissa Russo (In Studio): And there are more than fifty-six thousand people currently living in New York City’s family shelters. That’s an all-time high and it’s not just that more families are coming into shelter it’s that they’re staying longer. De Blasio administration officials hope theit new rental subsidy program officials hope their new rental subsidy program will hope move more families out of shelter and into permanent homes, alleviating on the shelter system. They dismissed the speculation that the availability of rental subsidies in shelter could actually attract families to come into the system. Chuck.