homeless families arriving at a city intake center 2016

It’s not news that there are a lot of homeless individuals and families in New York. The NY Times published an eye-popping statistic the other day that the city spends $575,000 each day to house homeless families in transient hotels for about 7,500 people. 

By coincidence, I happened to be in a city office the same day this report came out and began chatting up a young guy who began telling me about his business–operating transient hotels for homeless families. He has 1,400 rooms scattered across Queens and Brooklyn and charges $200 a night to the city. I’m not great at math so you figure it out. All I know is that’s a lot! 

This fellow said his family never intended to get into the business of sheltering homeless families. The family just happened to own a bunch of cheap hotels, the kind you might see out in the far reaches of Queens as you head to the airport. They’re there but most of us don’t see them. 

“About 4 years ago, the city called and asked us if they could rent five rooms?” he said. 

Four years later, that number is up to 1,400 rooms. He says buses full of homeless families sometimes arrive in the middle of the night. All his hotels are now filled with homeless families. They do not house homeless men because of the drugs and alcohol, he said. Too dangerous. 

“So what do these families get in the way of services?” I asked. 

Turns out, they get daily maid service and three meals delivered each day plus snacks from Fresh Direct. In addition, a third party provider administers to the families helping them through the maze of city-inspired red tape. These third-party providers also help with enrolling the children in schools and making sure the families are getting all the services coming to them. 

“Can they cook in their rooms?”

The answer is no. The city requires hotel owners to take out microwaves and not to allow hot plates because of the potential for fire. 

“How long can families stay?”

The hotel owner said indefinitely but after 28 days, they must formally check out and check back in to avoid the city’s rent stabilization and residency laws. 

“Do any families wind up getting jobs and moving out to apartments?”

“No, they’re lazy,” he said. 

To be more charitable, these families are living under difficult conditions. No one would want to live in one room with their multiple young children with a minimum of services. Still, our tax dollars are paying $6,000 per month for each family, not to mention the cost of food. You would think the city could figure out a way to make this formula work better but so far, under Mayor de Blasio, they have not. 

Homelessness is such an intractable problem. I do not believe it’s just a matter of affordable housing although that would help. Let’s face it, these families are incapable of providing for themselves so it’s our duty as responsible citizens to help them out. At what point, we’re being played for taxpaying fools, I leave that up to you. 

  1. Cheryl Dennis says:

    Wow, who knew? Surely there’s got to be a better way.

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