Last month, our law center had the privilege of representing one of our most treasured clients: Grace. Mother of three children, immigrant from the horn of Africa, middle-aged, profoundly deaf and without assets, Grace has lived in a single’s shelter for the past three seasons. Grace has been hoping that in living in the single’s shelter she would be awarded a voucher called “Advantage.” The Advantage voucher would permit Grace to reside in an apartment with her children for at least one year as she trains for, and seeks, full time employment.
Homeless shelters are surely difficult spaces to navigate for anyone who rests there for even one evening. We are certain that the shelter system is more unforgiving if you are deaf and living there for months. Throughout most of the past half year, Grace has had to shuffle among different shelters, in various boroughs- once even in the middle of the night-most often without the benefit of having an American Sign Language interpreter serve as a translator between Grace and City employees. Although required to provide interpreters, we believe that the City has fallen far short of fulfilling all of its obligations.
Several weeks ago, in what we believe is a turn of good luck, Grace receives an assignment to a Brooklyn family shelter. Grace is relieved, as she has lived apart from her children since August. Meantime, even better luck appears to strike: the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) represents to us that Grace will shortly receive an Advantage voucher. With the Advantage voucher, Grace will transition from a shelter to an apartment, as she receives vocational training and cobbles together skill sets that will make her a more competitive candidate for employment in our challenged economy.
Unfortunately, all does not go accordingly to plan. In a bitter twist of fate, DHS cancels the Advantage program this past Monday, on the eve of Grace about to receive her long awaited voucher. As I write, Grace and her children remain indefinitely in a homeless shelter-no funding available to provide her with the head start that she earnestly seeks.
The situation is equally dire for those New Yorkers who presently have an apartment under the Advantage program. The Associate Press reports that DHS is notifying 15,000 formerly homeless individuals and families that the Advantage program will apparently be cancelled as it relates to them. DHS expects that perhaps as many as 4,400 families will return to the shelter system. DHS claims, moreover, that it is cancelling the program due to anticipated state budget cuts, while a spokesman for Governor Cuomo asserts that the City can afford to pay for the program if it desires.
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The Department of Homeless Services for the City of New York reports that there are presently 37,800 individuals who are served within the citywide shelter system. This statistic apparently does not include 3,111 unsheltered individuals who live on the streets. The 3, 111 people who reside on the streets of our city-our dear neighbors-represent an increase of 783 more unsheltered individuals than last year.