Imagine you're a single mother. You're living in a homeless shelter making barely enough at your job as a day care worker to feed your daughter and pay the bills. Now what would you do if that shelter suddenly told you in order to stay you had to pay rent? This is the reality for Princess Seyborn and hundreds of other working homeless families in New York City.
The city is starting to charge working homeless families like Seyborn to stay in the city's publicly run shelters. Seyborn now has to pay $345 dollars a month in rent. "I tried to explain it on my best behalf," Seyborn said. "I don't have it and all I'm getting is pens and paper in my face saying sign here and sign here, and I refuse to sign."
The policy is based on a 1997 state law, which requires shelter residents with jobs to use a portion of their earnings to pay rent. The amount varies according to family size and which shelter is being used.
So why is the city implementing the law now? One reason could have to do with the results of a 2007 state audit. The city was required to pay back $2.4 million in housing aid that should have been supplemented by working homeless families.
The city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, defended the policy saying, "Everybody else is doing it, and we're told we have to do it, so we're going to do it."
But some city officials say the mayor should be looking for ways to reverse the policy not enforce it. Homeless advocates warn the policy could actually prolong a person's stay at a shelter. Arnold Cohen, President and CEO of Partnership for the Homeless, said city officials don't understand the income many of these people make goes to childcare. Cohen said, "So, when they have child care they are able to look for a job, able to look for housing, but we're essentially taking that money away from them."
The city says the policy is designed to prevent the working homeless from becoming dependent on public assistance and to move families back into their own homes.
So what can the working homeless do if faced with the prospect of being kicked out under the policy? Princess Seyborn is filing an appeal with the state. But critics of the policy worry unless it is reversed, many working homeless will end up back on the streets.