Systems Level Challenges on Long Island
Systemic Racism and Racial Disparities:
On Long Island, people of color disproportionately experience homelessness at higher rates than at a national level. Long Island is one of the most racially segregated communities in the country and has a long and documented history of red lining and housing discrimination. People of color on Long Island are more likely to get evicted, become homeless, remain homeless longer, and return to homelessness once housed than any other groups.
Housing Markets and Housing Affordability:
Long Island is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Created as a "white suburbia," Long Island has not only highly segregated communities, but a low housing stock of rental units overall, with low vacancy rates. Those units are often unattainable for households that are poor, low income or experiencing homelessness. This makes it harder to utilize rental assistance and other housing programs because it is very difficult to find units at or near Fair Market Rent amounts. Many Long Islanders of all different socio-economic statuses have been forced to relocate out of Long Island and/or New York State.
Long Islanders very often will oppose any development, but even more so will oppose housing development, especially when that housing can stigmatize the perceived types of people that would potentially be willing there. This includes any type of 'affordable' housing, housing programs for those that are homeless and/or disabled, and other types of interim and permanent housing for vulnerable populations. There is a very steep battle to climb to face strong community opposition, racism, discretionary local zoning laws, permits, obtain funds, sewer systems and impacts on roadways and traffic. Long story short, how are non-profits supposed to be able to move people out of homelessness if they have nowhere to go, both in the private sector housing market and with the lack of ability to create housing programs that can meet people's needs?
Vouchers/Public Housing Authorities:
Housing vouchers are necessary for many low income and homeless households to be able to afford to pay for their housing. This is because housing voucher recipients pay only 30% of their income towards rent and therefore able to afford their other expenses and pay for housing. While on Long Island there are over 20 Public Housing Authorities, not one of them prioritizes their vouchers for households experiencing literal homelessness (on the street or in shelter). Households sustain their housing much more often when they have a voucher and many family households that are enrolled with permanent supportive housing programs use the support services available to them rarely, if at all. Most families can exit homelessness and sustain housing with a voucher.
Shelter Systems on LI:
Neither county has yet found a way to offer shelter options that are accessible, meet individual needs and reasonable accommodations, and quickly exit people out of homelessness from shelter. In Suffolk County, all shelter placements (outside of a few winter shelter programs) require that households enter shelter by applying through DSS. There are some people that are not eligible for DSS shelter (such as those without US citizenship) and others that do not feel comfortable entering a shelter and instead live on the street. So while Suffolk County exits households faster than Nassau County out of shelter, households still remain homeless a long time before exiting, and more and more or on the street because of the lack of shelter options that exist. In Nassau County, those that are disabled and need reasonable accommodations can be placed in motels, as can families if there are no more shelter units available. However, in Nassau County, households remain homeless for significant periods of time, some seemingly indefinitely. The average household remains homeless more than one year, with some that have been in motels/shelters for greater than five years and still do not have a viable housing plan to exit. Both counties need to develop more low barrier shelter and have shelter case management that is more housing focused to exit households faster.
While Long Island has a greater stock of PSH than most places in the country, that housing is only accessible to a very small percentage of those that experience homelessness. Over 75% of the PSH housing stock on Long Island can only serve Veterans, households with severe and persistent mental illness that are approved through SPA, and/or persons with HIV/AIDS. Those three populations, combined, only make up less than 5% of the homeless population on Long Island. While building more Veteran housing, as an example, may be met with less public resistance, it also will no make a significant impact in decreasing the amount of people experiencing homelessness. HOPWA funds have historically been funded at high rates by HUD, but there have been significant strides in treating the disease and in local efforts to provide housing for that population. A large portion of permanent supportive housing on Long Island was created with state funds through the Office of Mental Health from decades ago. This housing stock requires that people are approved through SPA, which is often unattainable for people experiencing homelessness and trying to survive.
Households entering homelessness directly upon release from jails and prisons accounts for a very large percentage of inflow into shelters/homelessness. As release rates continue to be high in NYS, there has to be equal resources made available so that people have somewhere to exit to. At any given time, there are well over 100 single adults on parole in the shelter system. The homeless response system also needs to play a more significantly role by adding prevention and diversion resources at the front door of the homeless system.
Criminalization of Homelessness:
While many local leaders are truly interested in helping, the actions taken often contradict that. For example, enforcing laws and codes that make people on the street feel uncomfortable or make them displaced. In most cases, this leads to re-traumatization, increased risk of victimization, makes it harder for people to survive when they loose their belongings and/or connect remain hidden and safe where they sleep. The outreach teams that are supporting those households on a pathway towards housing may loose contact, of the people on the street no longer trust the outreach teams altogether, as they see a cause and effect of working with street outreach and then having their encampments swept, being ticketed, or being attacked/harassed. The bottom line is "removing" someone from an area forcefully does not magically make them housed, they will still remain homeless, and be harder to house in the future.