Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Defiance of Another Kind

This time, not funny. But it makes officials uncomfortable:

A score of families gather daily in the courtyard of a city office in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. The parents spend time chatting at the picnic tables while children play tag on a few patches of grass. The scene is gentle. But it poses a growing challenge to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s strategy for reducing homelessness.

Each of the families first came here to apply for a place in the city’s homeless shelters, a first step toward getting housing subsidies. They have all been evaluated and told they do not qualify because they have homes they can return to — most often the crowded apartments of relatives.

That was supposed to be the end of the story. But these families have not taken no for an answer. Instead, after the office stops taking shelter applications at 5 p.m., they stay and ask the after-hours staff for emergency shelter, which the city says is for families in a one-time crisis only.

Then sometime between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m., they and their children take all their belongings — shopping carts and strollers laden with televisions, toothpaste, fans — to board buses for a city shelter. Sometimes they are taken to a shelter in the Bronx; sometimes they go to Brooklyn or Queens. It is different every night.

They unpack, shower and sleep until 6 a.m., when they are awakened by the shelter staff. At 7 they are bused back to the city office in the Bronx, where they wait in the courtyard until the office closes at 5 p.m. and their nightly routine begins again.

It is a brutal existence.

Until recently the number of families willing to undergo such hardship was small. Officials say that families were given emergency late-night shelter, and did not reapply during office hours the next day, fewer than 75 times a month for most of 2006.

But the number erupted over the summer. In July, such families checked in for emergency overnight stays nearly 800 times. City officials and advocates for the homeless estimated that a core group of families, perhaps dozens, stayed in this cycle for weeks or longer.

Some much, much longer.

Liset DeJesus says that she and her husband and two daughters, with the Bronx center their base, have been moving from shelter to shelter every night since June. She says that the girls, who are 10 and 15, have been out of school for a year.

Victor Pellot, who says he gets a military pension for an injured shoulder, says he and his son, 14, have been living this way for seven months.

The families say they have no choice, nowhere else to go.

City officials view the tenacity of these families with alarm. They say these are largely families who do not want to return to overcrowded situations, like doubling up in relatives’ apartments, that are less than ideal, but adequate.

And they worry that the families are reinforcing one another’s behavior in defying the city’s rules, and undermining the reforms made in recent years to make the shelter assignment process faster and less subject to abuse.

There more. . . . .

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