Feature: Life for Homeless in New York gets really tough   2012-07-09 10:02:19            

By Christine Schiffner

NEW YORK, July 8 (Xinhua) -- Every morning Richard Rondan loads his six kids into his taxi cab and goes on the hour-long trip from the far end of Brooklyn to the Bronx. He drops his children off at school and kindergarten and picks them up again in the late afternoon.

These trips cost him not only 20 U.S. dollar a day for gasoline, he also loses valuable time driving his taxi cab. However, Richard has no other choice because about two weeks ago, he and his family got evicted from their 2-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.

Now homeless, the New York City Department of Homeless Services placed them in a shelter in Brooklyn.

Richard is one of 43,000 homeless men, women and children, seeking shelter in New York every night.

"This record number includes 17,000 kids. These numbers are the highest they have ever been since the (New York) city started to keep track in the early 1980s," Giselle Routhier, a policy analyst from the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, explains.

In its recent State of the Homeless 2012 report, the organization added up the numbers of New Yorkers staying in emergency shelters throughout the city.

"It' s really, really tough," Richard says. "We all sleep in one room. We are not able to cook at the shelter. We just have to eat out all the time so we can' t save any money. And it' s really, really tough going back and forth from Brooklyn to the Bronx all the time."

Richard would like to take on night shifts to make a little bit of extra money, but that is not possible because the shelter rules include a curfew, and nobody can enter or leave the building overnight.

Like many other homeless families, Richard used to rely on rent subsidies paid by the city of New York. When the subsides were cut, Richard ended up being unable to pay the monthly rent of 1,300 U.S. dollars.

"Six kids, the rent plus money for light, gas, food. It was just very, very difficult and it' s not getting any better," he says with a desperate look on his face.

Placing a family in a homeless shelter amounts to 36,000 U.S. dollars a year. Paying rent subsidies for a family would cost about 10,000 U.S. dollars a year, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

"For a homeless family, life is in limbo, it is in crisis mode every day. It' s very, very stressful" , Giselle Routhier explains.

Meanwhile, Richard Rondan is trapped in downward spiral. As he is unable to work full shifts with his taxi cab, he is struggling to make the monthly loan payments on his car. His biggest worry is that he might end up losing his car as well and as a result may be forced out of his job as a cab driver.

"People are suffering, people are getting thrown out of their houses with their kids. The system is not working, we' re just being shoved from one place to another" , Richard voices his frustration.

Lisa Sledge is a single mother of 3 and also lost her apartment after the rent subsidy was cut. She is trapped in a vicious cycle, she says.

Lisa has a low-paying government job but had to ask her employer for a leave of absence because she is forced to spend the day trying to find a way out of the shelter and into a new apartment. She is worried that if the process takes too long, she might lose her job.

"No one knows that there is a silent cry from the shelter. Since I' ve been in the shelter, I' ve developed anxiety, I feel like I just can' t go on." Lisa adds. "I don' t want to say I want to kill myself because I can' t. I have children to live for. But it' s really discouraging."

Lisa is one of hundreds of people who come to the brand new office building of the Department of Homeless Services in the Bronx every day to ask for help.

In order to be admitted to a homeless shelter, all family members have to show up here together. Filing an application with the Department of Homeless Services usually takes the whole day. Families also have to prove that none of their relatives and friends are willing to take them in. If a case is a approved, families usually are placed in a shelter for 10 initial days and then have to return to reassess their case.

The department was unable to respond to Xinhua' s request to comment within a timely manner.

Editor: Chen Zhi
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