Homelessness, Hurricane Sandy and the Human Side of New York City

Over the course of the last City fiscal year (FY 2014), more than 116,000 different homeless men, women, and children slept in the New York City municipal shelter system. This includes nearly 42,000 different homeless New York City children.

At the same time there are countless street people not in any homeless shelter at all.

“Each night thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep on New York City streets, in the subway system, and in other public spaces. There is no accurate measurement of New York City’s unsheltered homeless population, and recent City surveys significantly underestimate the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.”

Homelessness in NYC is now 69% higher than it was ten years ago and families comprise nearly four-fifths of the homeless shelter population.

The hairdresser in the salon said that “apparently” many homeless people are afraid to go to the shelters because they are worried they will have their ‘freedom’ taken away by the bureaucracy. Many don’t want to be dragged into the system, registered and put on welfare or into rehab. The streets are in that sense safer.

As in other American cities, New York City’s unsheltered homeless population is concentrated in the central business district – that is, midtown Manhattan. Surveys show that nearly 60 percent of New York City’s unsheltered homeless population is in Manhattan.

Manhatten is located on Long Island and is one of the five boroughs of New York City. It has a population of over one point six million people and the median monthly rental is US$3,380 (i.e. $4361 AUD).

Affordable housing is being sacrificed for profiteering on capital gains in Australia as in America and the situation in New York City is particularly stark.

Notice the leap in the numbers of homeless people from 2012 to 2015

Notice the leap in the numbers of homeless people from 2012 to 2015

It is hard to imagine what happened with all these people when New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Sandy was an intense, unexpected, off the charts weather event that caught the attention of the world as an all-too-real demonstration of the future trajectory of dangerous weather events exacerbated by dangerous climate change. The death toll amongst the invisible homeless population is of course unknown. One report * says Sandy was responsible for a further fifty thousand ‘new homeless’ people. To understand the impact, those who were most impacted and the aftermath, this New York Women’s Foundation report is worth a read.
* http://www.nywf.org/2013/11/hurricane-sandy-the-aftermath-and-moving-forward-an-overview-of-the-impact-of-the-new-york-womens-foundation-hurricane-sandy-response-and-recovery-fund/

Screenshot New York City with Sandy

Screenshot New York City with Sandy

(Screenshot photograph attributed to New York Magazine)

Now in May 2015 the after effects of this hurricane hitting New York City with such disastrous effects were still evident. The subway system, parts of which were out of commission for weeks, is still be rebuilt at enormous cost and with seemingly little appreciation for next time. As George Marshall’s book Don’t Even think About It – Why we are hard-wired not to understand climate change – clearly explains the people who have been through a disaster of such magnitude are, in general, the last ones to be able to contemplate such a thing happening again. People who have been burnt out by fire or washed away by flood are often quick to rebuild in exactly the same place and exactly the same way. It’s too awful to think about it happening again. It’s beyond the coping capacity of many of us humans.
It is heartening to think about how Sandy not only helped to create a sense of community but how homeless people, who had experience as “shelter guests”, took initiative and were able to help people who never expected to be homeless. Some were hailed as heroes.

Another perhaps not so surprising aspect of Hurricane sandy hearing and reading stories of how homeless people stepped up in that crisis. It was heart warming. The street people new their city and many of them were able to empathise and relate to their fellow New Yorkers who were suddenly displaced and needing shelter and services and real assistance to survive.

Click to access settembrino_2013.pdf

Another face of human resilience.

In Australia … http://www.homeground.org.au/hometruths/
The last census recorded that over 105,000 people were homeless. Of this figure around 20,000 people were sleeping on the streets or in a makeshift shelter. The remaining 85,000 were sleeping in rooming houses, crisis accommodation or sleeping on the floors or couches of friends.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 25 that
• (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
• (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

“Cohousing has arrived in New York City.
New York City Cohousing group was founded by new yorkers who desire a greater sense of community and are dedicated to creating ‘village living’ within the city”.
The Memorial Day long weekend got in the way of meeting the contact person, Patrick, there but he was present at the Cohousing Conference in Durham, North Carolina.

About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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