We face a homeless crisis of extraordinary magnitude: Nearly 90,000 homeless every night statewide; 150,000 homeless children annually. The leading causes of family homelessness in New York City are domestic violence, eviction, and overcrowded housing. These are the reasons that bring three out of four families into our shelter system.
But shelters, while necessary, are not the best solution. If we want to solve homelessness and end our over-reliance on shelters as an answer, we need to invest in the BEST solution: Long-term rental subsidies. A recent Federal housing study shows these subsidies vastly decreased reliance on shelters, overcrowding, and residential instability; and they also cut rates of domestic violence, psychological distress, food insecurity, drug and alcohol problems, and absences from school.
The proposal to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter mobilized the greater Queens community as few issues have in recent memory. Under the banner of “Solutions Not Shelters,” hundreds of residents in this community took to the streets to voice their opposition to a plan that they feel does not appropriately address the city's homeless crisis. It is an apt rallying cry for this movement. As a lifelong Queens resident and taxpayer, I am concerned that the state and city have yet to adequately address the root causes of homelessness. And time is running short: The problem continues to grow.
We spend billions of dollars every year in New York State on shelters and the additional costs of homelessness, including paying market or near-market rates to house families at hotels and motels. This is not solving the problem.
That's why I've worked with housing advocates and experts to develop a new program called Home Stability Support (HSS), which would increase the State's outdated rental subsidies and address this crisis. Under Home Stability Support, we can stop the flow of people becoming homeless and going into an unsustainably expensive shelter system by investing in the best solution proven to actually solve homelessness: Long-term housing subsidies for those who are facing eviction, fleeing domestic violence or hazardous conditions, living doubled-up, or already homeless.
This will save millions of dollars for the costs of shelters, housing court, law enforcement, emergency room visits, and other costs like soup kitchens and separate shelters for runaway and homeless youth and domestic violence victims. HSS will also save money by replacing the existing ineffective rent supplements.
For those who hear “governnment subsidy” and fear another taxpayer-funded handout, I would emphasize that HSS is much like preventative medicine: You can pay less now to prevent the problem, or pay even more later trying to fix it.
We invest in schools because an uneducated populace is far more expensive than the cost of education. We pay for preventative care in Medicaid because it is much cheaper than waiting for someone to get sick. Every dollar we spend on smoking cessation programs saves five in health care costs.
In the same vein, HSS is a homeless prevention policy that would cost $11,224 per year for a household of three in NYC while the cost of sheltering that same family would be $38,460. This translates into massive savings of $27,236 per family per year for New York taxpayers.
I encourage everyone to visit www.homestabilitysupport.com where you can read the full proposal and sign on to our growing coalition. Maspeth families are right to ask their elected representatives for solutions to the homeless crisis. By implementing Home Stability Support, we can translate their rallying cry into real action.
Andrew Hevesi is a New York State Assembly Member from Queens and the Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Social Services.