Homeless services and legal groups are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to permanently abolish a longtime requirement that entire families show up in person to a Bronx intake center in order to apply for homeless shelter.
That process — suspended temporarily in the pandemic — brought young children to the Department of Homeless Services’ facility when their parents or guardians applied for shelter, and again to reapply after an application was rejected.
Families from all over the five boroughs seeking shelter are required to make the trip to the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) intake center on East 151st Street, where families obtain an emergency placement while their applications are investigated.
On Friday, a dozen organizations sent a letter to Adams and his recently appointed Department of Social Services Commissioner, Gary Jenkins, urging them to continue the COVID-era application process, which allows families to stay in shelters even after their applications are rejected if they are trying once again.
THE CITY recently reported that of the families accepted into shelter in November, 62% had to apply more than once, while 31% submitted more than three applications before succeeding. Three in four applications for homeless shelter got rejected last year — the most since the Department of Homeless Services started tracking the figures a decade ago.
The groups, which include shelter providers Win and CAMBA, advocacy groups Coalition for the Homeless, Vocal-NY, Advocates for Children and Barrier-Free Living, as well as the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services and New York Legal Assistance group, wrote that the old system, in place for decades, took a heavy toll on families in crisis.
“Many of the current shelter application requirements create unnecessary barriers, causing undue hardship and trauma,” they wrote, adding: “recent data reported on by THE CITY serves as another exclamation point highlighting our concerns.”
Saying they seek to make applying for shelter “less agonizing for thousands of families,” the groups wrote that the changes they seek to make permanent “minimize disruptions to children’s education, prevent children from being forced to sleep outside, and allow families contending with homelessness to find stability.”
Christine Quinn — the former City Council speaker and CEO of Win, a homeless shelter provider and service operator — said it came as an “enormous relief” when DHS suspended the full-family and often repeated visits to the PATH intake center — calling them “really intrusive, horrible and really grueling.”
Of the 691 families who entered Win shelters between July and October of last year, 42% were found ineligible at least once. As of Jan. 21, nearly 16% of families in Win shelters were likely there under a conditional stay and awaiting ultimate say from DHS.
She noted that a change made to avoid unnecessary exposure to a dangerous virus could just as easily be made to avoid inflicting unneeded trauma on children and their families. “At a minimum, these things that were done because of health should be put into a permanent structure because of our hearts and our care for human beings.”
In the spring of 2020, the administration of former Mayor Bill de Blasio waived the requirement that children attend the intake processing, instead allowing them to appear via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom so their schooling and lives weren’t further disrupted as COVID-19 cases spread and lockdowns altered everyday life.
The changes also let families stay in their temporary shelter while reapplying for admittance into the shelter system — no longer having to bring all of their belongings with them back to PATH to begin the application process all over again.
Service providers asked the de Blasio administration in October to make the rule changes permanent — only to be told that the Department of Social Services and its Department of Homeless Services had no intention to backtrack on the new process. The Adams administration is following the same line, declaring that nothing is changing at the moment. But nor is it committing to a permanent reversal.
Said Ian Martin, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services:
“In response to this emergency in NYC, we made it easier for families to apply for and receive shelter by removing certain procedural requirements, like waiving previously mandatory in-person visits to intake centers and updating processes to make it easier for families to reapply for shelter services.
“Since we developed and implemented these reforms, we have stated repeatedly that we have no intention of discontinuing them at this time and are committed to identifying ways we can continue to support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness as they get back on their feet.”