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“People don’t go nowhere in Brooklyn”
December 9, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by more than 69 percent since 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg took office. Each night as many as 60,000 people -- including more than 22,000 children, the highest number since the Great Depression, -- experience homelessness in NYC, and during the course of each year, more than 111,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 40,000 children, will sleep in the city's municipal shelter system. Meet Dasani, one of the city's 'invisible children.'

The paper has a Summary of Reporting and Source Notes:
Andrea Elliott, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, began following Dasani and her family in September 2012. The series is written in the present tense, based on real-time reporting by Ms. Elliott and Ruth Fremson, a photographer with The Times, both of whom used audio and video tools. Throughout the year, Dasani’s family also documented their lives in video dispatches from the Auburn Family Residence, which does not allow visitors beyond the lobby. Ms. Elliott and Ms. Fremson gained access to the shelter to record conditions there. The reporting also drew from court documents, city and state inspection reports, police records, the family’s case files at city agencies and dozens of interviews with shelter residents. Most scenes were reported firsthand; others were reconstructed based on interviews and video and audio recordings.
posted by zarq (112 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article has an explanation for why she is named "Dasani."
"The first commercial signs of Brooklyn’s transition were simpler. In 2001, Chanel spotted a new brand of bottled water — Dasani — on the shelves of her corner store. She was pregnant again, but unlike the miscarriages of her teens, this baby was surviving. Chanel needed a name.

For a 23-year-old Brooklyn native who had spent summers cooling in the gush of hydrants, the name “Dasani” held a certain appeal. It sounded as special as Chanel’s name had sounded to her own mother, when she saw the perfume advertised in a magazine. It grasped at something better."

posted by zarq at 12:36 PM on December 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is a really interesting series to read alongside the recent article about poor people buying expensive stuff.
posted by Madamina at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's great reporting, but who is the NYT kidding with this disclaimer:

Her last name is being withheld to protect her identity

With that many photos, videos and specifics, her identity isn't remotely protected. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc was able to protect the people she wrote about in Random Family very well.

(This, unlike the Logic of Poor People, is actual reporting, not an opinion piece. There's a big difference. )
posted by Ideefixe at 12:51 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I made it through the first two parts, but I will read the rest when I have a quiet, reflective space to do so. The entire situation is horrifying, not only that it happens to children, but that it's invisible to the rest of us.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:54 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


This story is so much better than the reporting about the reporting of the breaking of this story. It was interesting seeing the change in mood from Jokes and ZOMGBREAKING guesswork to "Oh shit, this is both well made and heartbreakingly real." I don't know if I would have read this story without the hype, or if it would have had the same impact on my tragedy-calloused news-heart.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:01 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Families are now languishing there longer than ever — a development that Mr. Bloomberg explained by saying shelters offered “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”

You glib fucking prick.

Not much more to say about that.
posted by jaduncan at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2013 [42 favorites]


With that many photos, videos and specifics, her identity isn't remotely protected.

No, of course, not entirely, you're surely right. But these things are relative, you know? It doesn't protect her identity with any completeness, but it makes it take a couple of extra steps to look her up and, quite frankly, it may just increase her comfort level or her parents' comfort level. In other words, this may be the amount of anonymity that they asked for, which means that even if it isn't an amount that makes sense to me or to you, it may be what they wanted.

I understand the concern, but I think the photos are absolutely key to the story here, and to the storytelling, and once you use photos, you're really giving up on protecting identities entirely. There are a million interesting questions here, but mostly, I just think it's a spectacular story that is actually told with a ton of respect, which I appreciated.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:08 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


With that many photos, videos and specifics, her identity isn't remotely protected.

I wouldn't be so sure.

Because I was apparently living about five blocks away from this child the whole time she was at that shelter, and I cannot for the life of me remember seeing her or her mother at any point in the neighborhood in those four years. Which shames me, to be honest - because that means that I'm moving the class that ordinarily treats Dasani as if she's invisible.

And I didn't even know it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Your followup is heartbreaking, zarq.
posted by corb at 1:22 PM on December 9, 2013


including more than 22,000 children, the highest number since the Great Depression

Haven't RTA yet, but does this account for the population increase since then? Is it worse percentage-wise?
posted by Melismata at 1:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wanted very much to post this but I just cried about it instead. Excellent journalism, spirit-crushing reality.

Anyone who's curious as to why poor folks often choose to spend our welfare checks on dollar menu pink slime nuggets and shiny trinkets instead of organic from-scratch groceries and a sit-down dining set should read the last sentence in this excerpt from Chapter 1:
Suddenly, [Dasani's stepfather] Supreme leaps into the air. His monthly benefits have arrived, announced by a recording on his prepaid welfare phone. He sets off to reclaim his gold teeth from the pawnshop and buy new boots for the children at Cookie's, a favored discount store in Fulton Mall. The money will be gone by week’s end.

Supreme and Chanel have been scolded about their lack of financial discipline in countless meetings with the city agencies that monitor the family.

But when that monthly check arrives, Supreme and Chanel do not think about abstractions like "responsibility" and "self-reliance." They lose themselves in the delirium that a round of ice creams brings. They feel the sudden, exquisite release born of wearing those gold fronts again -- of appearing like a person who has rather than a person who lacks.
From Chapter 2, a minuscule peek into why public services are literally vital for kids mired in generational poverty:
In the absence of a steady home or a reliable parent, public institutions have an outsize influence on the destiny of children like Dasani. Whether she can transcend her circumstances rests greatly on the role, however big or small, that society opts to play in her life.
[...]
For Dasani, school is everything — the provider of meals, on-the-spot nursing care, security and substitute parenting.
And the perennial "undeserving poors shouldn't be allowed to buy anything 'unhealthy' with their welfare benefits" brigade might be well-served by taking a long, hard look at Chapter 4, where it might comfort them to note that the birthday cake pictured in the story was stolen from a grocery store rather than purchased with their precious, precious tax dollars.
posted by divined by radio at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


Melismata, I believe it is worse percentage-wise.

From March 2011: The official number of New Yorkers, 8,175,133, is a census record, but only 166,000 more people than in 2000.
"In fact, during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have. There are now two hundred and thirty-six homeless shelters in the city. Imagine Yankee Stadium almost four-fifths full of homeless families; about eighteen thousand adults in families in New York City were homeless as of January, 2013, and more than twenty-one thousand children. The C.F.H. says that during Bloomberg’s twelve years the number of homeless families went up by seventy-three per cent. One child out of every hundred children in the city is homeless."
From January 2012 - January 2013, the number of homeless in NYC rose 13% while the rest of the country saw a 4% drop.
posted by zarq at 1:56 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dearly hope that one day, we can, as a country, stop treating poverty like a crime and instead treat it as the systematic failure of society that it is. This young girl was beaten by the system before she was even born and with every breath she draws, she is forced further and further away from the possibility of a secure and safe life.

I read through this article this morning and I know that the ending is supposed to be a positive one but I can't help but fill in the blanks of what happens in a year or two. When your daughter doesn't want to tell you about fights she gets in at school because you'll encourage her to fight more, you have a long term problem that can't easily be solved.

My heart wants to say that removal from the family is a solution, that parents who can't make good decisions for their children shouldn't be raising them. That parents that consistantly choose temporary satisifaction over long term solutions, shouldn't be in charge of a child's welfare. But I understand how devasting familial seperation can be to these kids, and the children themselves have no desire to leave their parents. I don't have any real solution other than we seriously need to find a way to deal with systematic poverty that is not blame oriented. At some point, the overwhelming American fear of someone "getting away with abusing the system" needs to be thrown out and replaced with a real desire that everyone is entitled to basic human needs regardless of how poor they are.

Until then, Dasani and all the children like her will remain invisible.
posted by teleri025 at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


corb: "Your followup is heartbreaking, zarq."

The whole thing is just... there are no words. :(
posted by zarq at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2013


From part three: Her Uncle Waverly, who lives in the Walt Whitman Houses across from her shelter, the Auburn Family Residence, works as a supervisor for the parks department and has a Lexus S.U.V. When he drives past Dasani and her siblings, he pretends not to know them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.

This bodes poorly for the future. Decades of research have shown the staggering societal costs of children in poverty. They grow up with less education and lower earning power. They are more likely to have drug addiction, psychological trauma and disease, or wind up in prison.


This article is just a snapshot of one family's struggle. There are at least tens of thousands of more just in NYC. And in every city. And in every state. And that doesn't account for the people that aren't homeless yet, but are living on the edge.

It's overwhelming.
posted by backwords at 3:14 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm so glad someone posted this. It's a long, difficult read, and utterly damning. Dasani and her family now have an apartment of their own, but they couldn't get it until after an infant died elsewhere in the shelter due to substandard living conditions. It took the death of a child for anyone to enact real changes in the building, despite countless prior reports of black mold, asbestos, unsafe temperatures, expired baby formula and food, and sexual assault by staff members (!!). And that baby's death and the agony of her mother is just a footnote in this story.
posted by brookedel at 4:14 PM on December 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't doubt there are many suffering homeless people in NYC, but the last time there was a homeless "epidemic," it was hugely exaggerated. So be careful about claims of the sky is falling. In other words, yes, I call BS on the 60K number; it's likely a (still sad) fraction of that, but not 60K.
posted by NiceParisParamus at 4:20 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's hard data behind the numbers. So I don't think it's being over-hyped.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:32 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's overwhelming.

And it was predicted.

(Welcome (back?), NPP.)

So I don't think it's being over-hyped.

Latest numbers (Sept 2013) in your linked document go up to 52k, not 60.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does it matter whether the numbers are 60K 50K or 5K? The system cannot handle that many people and aid is being cut every year. The city can't even keep up with maintenance on the shelters let alone provide pay for social workers to help get families out of the shelters.
posted by backwords at 4:38 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Uh... numbers put in a spreadsheet aren't always "hard data." I'm just suggesting to be skeptical of all claims of disaster (as well as panacea). Recent examples with speadsheets: heterosexual aids, catastrophic climate change, silicon breast implants, if you like your insurance..., et al.. Over and out.
posted by NiceParisParamus at 4:41 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Backwords, it matters because 60K of homeless deserves less money and resources than if there are 5K of homeless. Because for every $ allocated to homelessness, a $ isn't being allocated to some other pressing problem.
posted by NiceParisParamus at 4:43 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would hope the amount of money allocated would scale up or down based on the number in need, but that obviously doesn't happen. There's only so much money. There is money to pay the higher ups in the organization and promote them, but not enough to fix a broken pipe or provide day care resources so that people can find jobs or to put towards the public education system. And I don't think that 60K vs 5K necessarily "deserves" less money, perhaps percentages of budget make more sense.
posted by backwords at 4:51 PM on December 9, 2013


Reading this, I thought about the email forwarded to me by a close relative today. It's infuriating, but I'm going to quote from it, because it shows the mindset of the people who will need to be convinced, or at least roundly defeated politically, if we're really going to start addressing the problems of poverty and homelessness in this country:

"The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, is
proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever to 46,000,000 people.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U. S. Department of the Interior, asks us, "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."

This was forwarded by someone making 150k+ a year. Please show up next year (and every year) at the polls, people. We need to utterly defeat and destroy this attitude which pits us against each other, or at the very least ensure that the party and politicians who encourage and enable this sort of bullshit racism and class warfare have no way of putting their destructive and corrosive policies into place.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:51 PM on December 9, 2013 [20 favorites]


It does not help children to be removed from their loving but struggling families. We can help them by helping their entire family in a way that doesn't sever a vital bond.

NPR interviewed this author today, and this post made me think of her book. The below is from a Q&A at the link, I can't find the NPR interview online yet.

Q: How has American society explained poverty and how has that history contributed to the narrative of deprivation you explore in this book?

A: Poverty is often seen as a personal failure, whereas success is a mark of hard work; thus economic status serves a surrogate for individual self-worth, and not an indicator of society's structure and its limitations. Poor men and women are still often portrayed in stereotypical terms as being lazy and unmotivated. Cultural deprivation is an intra-psychic explanation for the cause of poverty, focusing on the myriad of deficits in an individual's life that leads to economic disadvantage--maternal failure, lack of stimulation, lack of appropriate role models. While it does not blame individual girls and boys for their scholastic disadvantage, which further perpetuates the "cycle of poverty," it does blame their parents and their home environment. Thus deprivation theory is an example of "blaming the victim" in the discussion of poverty and its causes.

posted by emjaybee at 4:52 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


NiceParisParamus: "In other words, yes, I call BS on the 60K number; it's likely a (still sad) fraction of that, but not 60K."

IndigoJones: " Latest numbers (Sept 2013) in your linked document go up to 52k, not 60."

Here's the first link in the post, where the 60K figure comes from. The spreadsheet in question:

a) comes from the same organization
b) only covers the municipal shelter system

The full quote at the first link in this post is as follows:
• Each night as many as 60,000 people -- including more than 22,000 children -- experience homelessness.
• Currently 52,400 homeless men, women, and children bed down each night in the NYC municipal shelter system.
• Additionally, more than 5,000 homeless adults and children sleep each night in other public and private shelters, and thousands more sleep rough on the streets or in other public spaces.
• During the course of each year, more than 111,000 different homeless New Yorkers, including more than 40,000 children, sleep in the municipal shelter system.
• The number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters has risen by more than 69 percent since 2002.
52,400 at municipal shelters + 5000 who sleep each night in other public and private shelters = 57,400 people.

Thousands more sleep "on the streets or in other public spaces."

And more find temporary but not long-term shelter in the municipal shelter system. placing the figure of those experiencing homelessness at "as many as 60,000 people -- including more than 22,000 children."
posted by zarq at 4:53 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


NPP: Oh, hell yeah - we wouldn't want any money to slip through to those living in catastrophic poverty that wasn't directly accountable - instead, that money needs to be allocated to the military for protection of old, stripped airplanes that sit in dry harbor in the Tucson desert for eternity, or for $500 toilet seats, or give the money to a right-wing lobbyist - he'll know what to do with it. Just don't let any money fall through the cracks to those losers in homeless shelters.

Bloomberg should be drawn and quartered; he's like the ultimate slum-lord.
posted by aryma at 4:53 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, backwards, I think you are 100% mistaken. Mistaken because bigger problems deserve more money, and because obtaining money via fake statistics is a form of theft and lying--that doesn't bother you?
posted by NiceParisParamus at 4:54 PM on December 9, 2013


it matters because 60K of homeless deserves less money and resources than if there are 5K of homeless. Because for every $ allocated to homelessness, a $ isn't being allocated to some other pressing problem.

Sure? But this is a tone-deaf response to an article wherein the lack of adequate funding for the homeless is shown leading to children going hungry, infant death, and sexual abuse of the homeless by shelter employees.
posted by brookedel at 4:55 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bless that family. Who could navigate such a system so well? Here's hoping Mayor de Blasio can make good on his problem to pump some more affordable housing into NYC. Every little bit helps. This is a problem the market is NOT going to correct all by itself. It's nothing but luxury condos and gutted brownstones as far as the eye can see down here, anyway.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:56 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


[NiceParisParamus, please join the conversation already in progress and don't try to steer this thread in a direction it's not otherwise going]
posted by jessamyn at 4:57 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


NiceParisParamus: "...because obtaining money via fake statistics is a form of theft and lying..."

Do you have any evidence that the statistics have been faked, are wrong or exaggerated other than your belief that they cannot be accurate?
posted by zarq at 4:58 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Throughout the year, Dasani’s family also documented their lives in video dispatches from the Auburn Family Residence, which does not allow visitors beyond the lobby. Ms. Elliott and Ms. Fremson gained access to the shelter to record conditions there.

What does that last sentence mean? Did they sneak in?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:10 PM on December 9, 2013


everyone is entitled to basic human needs regardless of how poor they are.

I would hope the amount of money allocated would scale up or down based on the number in need, but that obviously doesn't happen. There's only so much money.

That's why we have things like entitlements, which are benefits that Americans have legal rights to claim. If you don't get an entitlement that you're eligible for, you have the legal right to sue the government and get it (though that is very, very rare). Social Security is an example of a federal entitlement program.

And entitlements do scale up according to the numbers of people eligible -- how many people are eligible for entitlements determines the size of the program's budget.

Things like block grants are the opposite -- in that case, a state given a block grant is given a set amount of money, and decides on allocation with a set budget already in mind.

Under Clinton, welfare was changed from a federal entitlement to block grants to the states. Which is why it, for all intents and purposes, welfare no longer exists.
posted by rue72 at 6:36 PM on December 9, 2013


“I don’t dream at all,” she says. “Even when I try.”

There's really nothing I can write that will adequately describe the bitterness and helplessness and rage and fury at my own impotence that this induced.
posted by like_a_friend at 6:46 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


gained access to the shelter to record conditions there.

What does that last sentence mean? Did they sneak in?


Yeah, I hate when they put things that way and don't spell out exactly what occurred. I recently made a writer change an instance of "acquired a copy of" in a story I edited (in fact, the reporter was given a copy of the item in question) for just this reason.

$500 toilet seats

You haven't seen that episode of The West Wing, have you? See also: the $400 ashtray (last quote).
posted by limeonaire at 6:55 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You haven't seen that episode of The West Wing, have you? See also: the $400 ashtray (last quote).

I never understood that.

1. Why the fuck are you smoking on a submarine, you loon?

2. If breakable ashtrays are a problem, why aren't they just stamped out of sheet steel for 50 cents?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:09 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can't begin to even grasp this problem intellectually - it's like the myth with the Hydra but with a 1950's B-movie style upgrade - a Hydra that can tear apart the moon or something. I can't think of a single solution that would make any kind of a near-term difference on a large scale (fix things right now for all these kids) or a permanent difference on a small scale (get this one family fixed for good.) There's no pill or program to do that - it's impossible for a mortal person to come up with anything to "solve" it. It feels like the best we can hope for is applying an endless series of band-aids and morphine.

The one thing I do feel like I know for sure is that a whole bunch of these folks need to escape that city - the economic transformation of NYC isn't going to magically reverse itself, and none of the adults have skills sufficient to get jobs that will earn enough to rise out of this sub-poverty nightmare world.

There's a lot of crappiness inherent in living in a place like Marion, OH, but at least you can pay for a three-bedroom double-wide on lot with trees with a single person working a job in the Subway inside the gas station. And heck, as long as you don't have a fairly specific medical need, you can get to every place you have to get to by walking or riding a bike; small town services are generally fairly close together, since the majority of the customers were coming in from their farms back when these towns were built.

(The crappiness is mostly of the boredom and small-mindedness variety - the things that drove me nuts as a teenager but which are absolutely nothing to compared to what that little girl deals with on an hourly basis.)
posted by SMPA at 8:26 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's really nothing I can write that will adequately describe the bitterness and helplessness and rage and fury at my own impotence that this induced.

Like A Friend, you don't have to feel this way. I really encourage anyone to become a Big Brother or Big Sister and make some change happen for a young person that needs a responsible and caring adult in their life. This story captivated me and reminded me of my little - and although the conditions weren't as bad, so many things were sadly similar. I would wait on her doorstep because she didn't want me seeing the inside of the house, and mull over the sheets on the windows of the units in the townhouse complex and broken down cars in the parking lot. She tried to hide her poverty so hard. So achingly hard. We went to the historical park and she marvelled at seeing a pig for the first time - and yeah, much like Dasani wants to see DC, my little had never left the city either. It took many years and many people to support her in her success, and I'm so proud to have been a part of it. There was nothing special I had to do except be myself and spend an hour a week with her.

It's not a quick fix, and not the solution, but there are lots of ways people can help. It's just a matter of finding that way. Connecting people to the help they need, as demonstrated in the article, is sadly lacking.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:45 PM on December 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted; please see jessamyn's note above and let's just leave that derail aside, thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am humbled by the strength of this little girl, because she is going through hell and back and I am depressed because my job had been upsetting lately. I am also ashamed of being part of the privileged people who put Dasani and her family where they are. Utterly, utterly ashamed.

We are failing our children and it kills me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:39 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In British Columbia (Canada) we now have the second-highest child poverty rate in Canada, after Manitoba. Our child poverty rate is 18% and has risen 4 percentage points since 2011.

Interestingly, BC has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Newfoundland, which as a province has one of the highest unemployment rates, has the lowest child poverty rate.

Unfortunately the data doesn't break down by demographic or household type.

It's pretty shocking.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


But it's DeBlasio who is gonna ruin NYC and bring us back to the 1980s!

Bloomberg came in with zero experience and handed the keys to the city to the richest citizens, told NYPD to fuck up the shit of poor people of color, told the white working class to screw itself, and filled our streets with homeless who can't afford even an SRO. All in 12 years. And people say he was a good mayor and worry about DeBlasio's lack of experience (i.e., way more than King Michael had) and leftist views, such as the idea that kids need all-day kindergarten while their parents work three jobs to pay Bloombergian rents.


I'm already mad as fuck at DeBlasio for the Bratton choice. But Michael Bloomberg should hang his head in shame at what he leaves in his wake.
posted by spitbull at 1:35 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


gained access to the shelter to record conditions there.

What does that last sentence mean? Did they sneak in?

Yeah, I hate when they put things that way and don't spell out exactly what occurred. I recently made a writer change an instance of "acquired a copy of" in a story I edited (in fact, the reporter was given a copy of the item in question) for just this reason.


Probably results in less drama than "bribed the security team".
posted by jaduncan at 3:39 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Backwords, it matters because 60K of homeless deserves less money and resources than if there are 5K of homeless. Because for every $ allocated to homelessness, a $ isn't being allocated to some other pressing problem.
posted by NiceParisParamus


I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it doesn't seem like too much money being spent on shelters is the primary issue here.
posted by jaduncan at 4:54 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a terrifying indictment of our social service system here in New York. In what universe is it moral to give methadone to people with parental rights for eight children, including an infant?
posted by BobbyVan at 6:02 AM on December 10, 2013


But it's DeBlasio who is gonna ruin NYC and bring us back to the 1980s!

To be fair, this jokey attitude notwithstanding, the 80's were way, way, way worse in NYC for everyone. You cannot blame the problems of the homeless today on Bloomberg, or even his predecessor Giuliani. This problem has been building for a long time.

In other news, The New York Post has a response. Don't be drinking anything when you read it.
posted by corb at 6:17 AM on December 10, 2013


I notice that not even the Post is arguing that the children deserve it.
posted by jaduncan at 6:33 AM on December 10, 2013


What kind of monster *would* argue that the kids deserve it?
posted by BobbyVan at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2013


Almost nobody. That's where the take-all-the-parent's-money argument falls apart, which is why the Post is complaining about the money given to the parents rather than the unfulfilled needs of the children.

"But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it’s the city’s job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents."

My logical conclusion from that is that the Post would rather deny the children high quality housing because their parents might 'get away' with living in it.
posted by jaduncan at 6:38 AM on December 10, 2013


"For this family, shelter, rental assistance and food stamps alone have added up to nearly half a million dollars since 2000. In addition, Medicaid covers health care. Even so, the parents have consistently failed to meet basic eligibility requirements." - yeah, with a family of 10 people over more than a decade, that works out to about $320 a month per person.

Re: moving out of New York. Yes, living outside might be cheaper, but as the article points out, they have extensive family and friend connections in the city, and most of all, they have learned how to navigate the system pretty well. To go to another city or town is a considerable risk, as well as a huge emotional challenge. Probably a good risk for Dasani and the others, but it's not as clear-cut as just saying they should pack up and leave New York.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:51 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's where the take-all-the-parent's-money argument falls apart, which is why the Post is complaining about the money given to the parents rather than the unfulfilled needs of the children.

Except the parents get more than $2k a month in cash benefits + free housing + a daily hit of debilitating methadone, and they spend their cash on luxuries like gold teeth and fancy boots and sneakers instead of basics like tissues to wipe their kids' runny noses. It's immoral for the city to subsidize this kind of lifestyle while the children suffer.

More paternalism is needed: take away most of the cash and give the parents vouchers to buy their own housing and basic essentials. Wean them off the methadone that renders them incapable of tending to their infant child (or take the kids away).
posted by BobbyVan at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2013


Corb, I think we can blame mayors for not trying to improve the problem. Bloomberg increased the economic divide in this city far more than his predecessors. But yeah, this has been an ongoing long-term problem and while it's good DiBlasio is focusing his attention on it, who knows if that will be more than a band-aid over a festering wound. The underlying issues have to be fixed, and is that even possible?

One of the things I really liked about this piece was it didn't pull punches about Supreme and Chanel's history: their dysfunctional parenting, all of their problems, inability to handle money well and lack of personal control, and just how destructive Dasani's home life is to her well-being, and her future. They are presented to us, warts and all, with clear explanations about how their own repeated poor decisions and circumstances have landed them at the bottom, while showing us just how hard it is to rise out of that trap once you're there.

The Post can blame the parents all they like, but that's not going to fix the situation. When they propose viable solutions, they'll earn my respect. Til then, their sniping from the sidelines is worse than useless.
posted by zarq at 6:52 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


More paternalism is needed: take away most of the cash and give the parents vouchers to buy their own housing and basic essentials.

Yes, it's a terrible idea to cut food stamps.
posted by jaduncan at 7:11 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Paternalism is expensive, too, though. Administering new programs is expensive. Hiring social workers is expensive. Recruiting, training, monitoring and retaining foster parents is expensive. Finding foster parents willing and able to take 8 children in NYC would be all but impossible, which means the kids would have to split up. I think that would probably be very sad for the kids, to lose their parents and some of their siblings. There seems to be a lot of love in that family, and that's not something easily duplicated, not even in the most capable foster homes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


More paternalism is needed: take away most of the cash and give the parents vouchers to buy their own housing and basic essentials.

Vouchers like these? Or these?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Post can blame the parents all they like, but that's not going to fix the situation. When they propose viable solutions, they'll earn my respect. Til then, their sniping from the sidelines is worse than useless.

Not to endorse the Post, because I don't, but I'm honestly not sure there is a viable solution that can fix something like this without causing worse problems. Would the children be better away from these parents? Yes, absolutely - if we had great foster parents who were willing to keep them until age 18, together as a family, and a system that wasn't rife with abuse, physical and sexual, and if the children were allowed a clean break. That is not available or possible.

Would the parents be better off with education? Even if they were able to internalize it, which is by no means even probable, it wouldn't help unless they were removed completely from the situation. It doesn't help for them to know exactly what to do to be great parents, when their own sense of self worth is assessed by the eyes of others who have similar values, who will look at the gold teeth and think more positively of the bearer.

Fix the shelters? One of the worst dangers of the shelter system to women and people with families is not external danger, but the other residents - as you can see from the sexual assaults reported in the article. When the cases are the guards, they should be immediately fired - but they lack the ability to do so easily, for those who belong to public sector unions, or the willpower, given that it is difficult to find people to staff in shelters. Half the people are there to help. The other half are there because it is a form of power they can find for cheap.

$2,300 is absolutely doable. A family with $2,300 should not need to be in shelter. If the family were able to live independently, I could definitely find these people an apartment. They would probably have to leave Brooklyn and live in one of the outer boroughs, though - and leave their friends, network, and way of life behind. And once placed in an apartment, it is harder to help individuals if they fall back into old habits.
posted by corb at 7:23 AM on December 10, 2013


Is this really Bloomberg's fault? Granted I only very loosely follow city politics, but it seems the city's budget is already stretched pretty thin - schools, pensions, housing, etc. etc. There seem to be so many pressing problems and not enough money to go around.
posted by rosswald at 7:30 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading further on, it looks like a large portion of the problem has been Chanel and Supreme's drug addiction - even when they managed to acquire 49K and a house in Staten Island, they lost it because of drugs. Addiction is a huge problem, and honestly not fixable through the physical aspects alone.
posted by corb at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Been waiting for someone to point this out. Thanks, corb.
posted by Melismata at 7:48 AM on December 10, 2013


Yeah I feel like the drug addiction was the only aspect that was a little glossed over, but that wasn't really what the article is about and I imagine giving too many details could put custody of the kids in jeopardy. I wasn't clear from the article how much the kids were exposed to the drug use and where the money for the drugs, other than the methadone, was coming from.
posted by whoaali at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2013


Not to endorse the Post, because I don't, but I'm honestly not sure there is a viable solution that can fix something like this without causing worse problems. Would the children be better away from these parents? Yes, absolutely

Not so quick...these children are only better off away from their mother if they are guaranteed an exit from their environment. Unfortunately, there's no one who can guarantee that. As easy as it is to judge these parents poor choices, I also see the ways in which they are passing on the survival skills necessary for life in their world. Which are not always the same survival skills needed in ours. Knowing how to fight, steal, and work the system is exactly the education they need for the life that they're most likely to lead.
posted by billyfleetwood at 8:00 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Paternalism is expensive, too, though. Administering new programs is expensive.

Seriously. This family would've probably cost the city a lot less if they'd just been given a housing voucher and a guaranteed minimum income. I was just at a job center (giuliani-speak for welfare center) yesterday picking up some rent arrears checks for a client. I waited for an hour and a half. People around me had been there for 2-3 hours. It's common to wait there all day. Being poor in NYC is a lot of work.

Is this really Bloomberg's fault?

Yes. He instituted a poorly thought out, temporary voucher program, Advantage, and then ended it early. The shelter population then increased (according to Coalition for the Homeless). I work at a legal services office, and I spoke to people who called our intake line after they timed out of Advantage and after Advantage ended for everyone. They were awful conversations.

"So there's nothing you can do? We're just going to be evicted?"
"Yes, I'm sorry."
"My family has to go back to shelter?"
"Yes, there aren't any other subsidy programs."
"How could this happen? Why get us out for a couple of years just to have us go back in?"
"I'm sorry. It was a terrible program. I can't explain it."

There are other things. He hasn't done enough to encourage private entities to build affordable housing (tax breaks, zoning waivers, and other incentives have worked in the past). He hasn't reined in the crazy wasteful abuses at NYCHA. He's allowed the destruction of existing affordable housing (someone mentioned SRO's, which, good luck finding an SRO unit, they're all being converted to luxury housing). But I think the main thing is housing vouchers.
posted by Mavri at 8:06 AM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is this really Bloomberg's fault?

All his fault? No. But he's clearly made the problem worse, and in some cases been stopped from doing so. I linked to this New Yorker article upthread. It has a lot more info on how Bloomberg's policies have impacted the homeless.

The waiting list for affordable housing has soared to 270,000 people; the total amount of public housing units in New York City (which are all occupied) is 178,900. That's right, the number of people waiting for public housing is more than all the housing that's available.
"If the need is so great, why doesn't the city just build more public housing to keep families off the street? Look no further than the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which slashed the federal government's investment in public housing, focusing instead on housing vouchers and requiring new construction projects to set aside space for affordable housing. Since then, building new public housing hasn't been financially feasible for the city. And with further cuts to housing subsidies by the federal government over the past few years, even options like Section 8 housing (which awards vouchers) are no longer possible."
Bloomberg did build affordable housing when he first got into office and then: As Bloomberg Built Affordable Housing, City Became Less Affordable and NYC's "Affordable" Housing Isn't Really Affordable, Report Finds

"With New York City’s shelter population near all-time highs, the Bloomberg administration is on the verge of ending its signature housing program for homeless families, saying the program’s generosity might have contributed to the problem." And then of course there's this: Lawsuit Challenges Bloomberg Plan To Lease Public Housing Land To Luxury Developers.

NYC Bans Food Donations To The Homeless because the city can't assess their salt, fat and fiber content. It's amazing to watch The Post's editorial staff torn between conflicting efforts to attack the mayor and the homeless.

From the Daily News (August 2012), photos of Auburn, the shelter Dasani lives in: "Rats are coming through the walls and worms infest the bathrooms at city's homeless shelters. But Mayor Bloomberg says they're so pleasurable that no one wants to leave. Bloomberg says shelters 'more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.' Shelter residents dumbfounded by Hizzoner's comments. Statistics show families with children had 30 percent longer stays in shelters in 2012 than in 2011."

I wonder sometimes if this is all an effort on his part to maintain a sunny image of NYC for outside investors. To sweep the problem under the rug by declaring "Nobody's sleeping on the streets."
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on December 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Drug use is a generational problem too -- I'm sure when Dasani's mother and her brother threw their mother's crack pipe out of the window they were both 100% sure that they wouldn't be touching drugs. Dasani probably feels the same way watching her Mom affected by drugs as well. But, it seems like a hard legacy to break away from. Especially when drugs give such an easy out, there go your worries under that soothing haze.

Here in New Mexico there are generations of families addicted to heroin. They aren't doing it for fun. New Mexico has one of the worst poverty rates in the country and is failing citizen left and right regarding education and heath care among many other standards of living.

I have trouble blaming Dasani's parents completely for their failure to manage their money or their addictions. They're coming out of the same place Dasani is and there's not a whole lot of help.
posted by backwords at 8:27 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes. He instituted a poorly thought out, temporary voucher program, Advantage, and then ended it early. The shelter population then increased (according to Coalition for the Homeless).

Coalition for the Homeless does great work, but they're just wrong about this. The Advantage program, like many other rapid re-housing programs, are good programs. The only "problem" with them is that they are designed for what are thought of by pols and citizens as the "deserving" homeless - those without severe mental issues or substance abuse problems, who just need a hand up, and will do fine on their own once they get a home and a job. And it does work for a lot of people. But it doesn't work for those who have serious issues, or who are unable to think beyond "what will happen two years from now when the subsidy ends?"

What is the answer for these people? Again, what is the answer for substance addicts or the mentally ill, both of which cannot legitimately be forced into treatment but only incentivized? What is the answer for the chronically homeless who can't live with other people and who can't exist in a job once they find them?
posted by corb at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Free money. The answer is free money.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:06 AM on December 10, 2013


Sorry, that was a bit too glib.

Our current underfunded shelters and addiction treatment programs need more money to deal with the increased demand for their services that comes from a sagging economy. Charity isn't and will not be able to handle this demand.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:09 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just starting these articles. Just to give you an idea of what kind of fucked up attitudes are out there, a former work associate and Facebook friend who, after posting the link to this, got into a "discussion" (not my preferred term as that implies two sides that have a similar grasp on sanity) with a person who said, among other things, and I quote:

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to implement mandatory sterilization for parents in the shelter/welfare system.

and this doozy:

Of course, "poor life choices" doesn't necessarily cover the vast spectrum of reasons why people end up in the system. And I know this will sound terrible, but would it be so bad to end the genetic line of people with such severe mental illness that they require substantial public assistance (housing, SNAP, etc)? Again, for me, the basic reasoning is: if you can't take care of yourself and require the state to intervene and finance your life, don't reproduce. Just don't. I fully support better care etc etc etc for the mentally ill and maybe that would solve the problem but otherwise, I fully sanction the mandatory sterilization of state parasites. For lack of a better phrase.

My friend was exceedingly diplomatic in her interactions with this individual. If this was anybody who I knew, I don't even.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:37 AM on December 10, 2013


[Folks maybe bringing exceptionally shitty comments over here from other venues is not the best way to keep this touchy discussion on the rails. Please do not start long arguments with people who are not here.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2013


For those of you feeling hopeless, here are my thoughts:

De Blasio has campaigned around working to decrease inequality - if you are a New Yorker, reasearch some organizations that will be in a good position to put pressure on him to keep his promises, and get involved. Go to events, call his office, put pressure on City Council members to support his agenda.

If you live elsewhere, research organizations that are involved in corporate tax accountability, increasing school and social service funding, and reforming child welfare. Again, get involved - go to events and protests, call representatives, talk to your neighbors.

This is a big, hairy problem that is symptomatic of a bunch of even bigger problems. It will not to easy to solve. We have to organize.
posted by mai at 10:52 AM on December 10, 2013


De Blasio has campaigned around working to decrease inequality - if you are a New Yorker, reasearch some organizations that will be in a good position to put pressure on him to keep his promises, and get involved.

I did exactly this. I recently joined an AIDS service organization in the city.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:03 AM on December 10, 2013


Our current underfunded shelters and addiction treatment programs need more money to deal with the increased demand for their services that comes from a sagging economy. Charity isn't and will not be able to handle this demand.

The reason charity can't handle this demand, however, has nothing to do with money. What is your solution for people who don't actually fully want to cease being addicts? What is your solution. short of institutionalization, for people who are mentally ill, but don't believe they are? Even the most well-funded program still doesn't have a 100% success rate.
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Favorited a million times, corb. Until people address this issue, everything else is secondary.
posted by Melismata at 11:22 AM on December 10, 2013


Coalition for the Homeless does great work, but they're just wrong about this. The Advantage program, like many other rapid re-housing programs, are good programs. The only "problem" with them is that they are designed for what are thought of by pols and citizens as the "deserving" homeless - those without severe mental issues or substance abuse problems, who just need a hand up, and will do fine on their own once they get a home and a job. And it does work for a lot of people.

My opinion about the Advantage program is based on my own experience of its failure, not the Coalition for the Homeless's work. The Advantage programs gave people a time-limited housing voucher in a recession. When the time was up, the program did not allow for extensions for people who were un- or under-employed and unable to afford their rent. Those people were evicted and ended up back in the shelter system. I know this is true because I spoke to many of them. In a city as expensive as New York, some people are going to need permanent vouchers, like section 8. Many people predicted that Advantage would fail a huge number of people right from the start, and it did.

What is the answer for substance addicts or the mentally ill, both of which cannot legitimately be forced into treatment but only incentivized? What is the answer for the chronically homeless who can't live with other people and who can't exist in a job once they find them?

The answer is Housing First programs, which have shown to have lower costs than our current system of temporarily housing chronically homeless people in shelters, hospitals, or jails. Housing First programs, like this "wet house" in Seattle, have also had success in getting treatment resistant people with substance abuse and/or mental health issues into treatment. Of course, this is a hard sell for people who think mental illness and addiction are moral failings--the undeserving poor. Oddly enough, George W. Bush's "homelessness czar," Philip Mangano, was an advocate of the Housing First model.
posted by Mavri at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


corb: " What is your solution for people who don't actually fully want to cease being addicts? What is your solution. short of institutionalization, for people who are mentally ill, but don't believe they are? Even the most well-funded program still doesn't have a 100% success rate."

You're making a case for not building a 10 foot levee because we'll sometimes get an 11 foot storm surge. Let's build the levee now and see if we can add a couple feet on to it later. We don't know a priori which homeless are irredeemable or just seem that way because we haven't tried hard enough to reach them. There's no evidence that the supposedly irredeemable represent a growing portion of the growing homeless population, so let's cast a wide net and save the people we can instead of making excuses not to.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:56 AM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I mean, seriously, "nothing to do with money" is the most easily disprovable statement I've seen in ages. You're telling me if we just indiscriminately mailed million dollar checks to every drug treatment program in America we wouldn't see better results?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:02 PM on December 10, 2013


The answer is Housing First programs, which have shown to have lower costs than our current system of temporarily housing chronically homeless people in shelters, hospitals, or jails. Housing First programs, like this "wet house" in Seattle, have also had success in getting treatment resistant people with substance abuse and/or mental health issues into treatment.

There's a pretty big debate in the community about Housing First vs rapid re-housing. I've seen that it does in some cases have some big gains, but I've also seen that for some segments of the population it simply does not work, or at least, does not work as designed. Housing readiness has its advocates and detractors. I personally think that Housing First can do a lot of good, but it needs to be acknowledged that it is not a universal fit. Housing readiness can really assist in some cases when it is the only way to get a family into compliance and to better treatment of the other family members.

You're telling me if we just indiscriminately mailed million dollar checks to every drug treatment program in America we wouldn't see better results?

Would we see better results? Some, absolutely. I'd defy you to find me a housing program that wouldn't like more money. But would we fix the problem? No, we absolutely would not fix the problem, because the problem is not as simple as "we don't have enough money."
posted by corb at 12:07 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: " Would we see better results? Some, absolutely. I'd defy you to find me a housing program that wouldn't like more money. But would we fix the problem? No, we absolutely would not fix the problem, because the problem is not as simple as "we don't have enough money.""

More money creates better outcomes. Again, you can't tell ahead of time who's irredeemable until you try to redeem them. You can't justify not trying by saying you won't always succeed.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:12 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


More money creates better outcomes.

Cite?
posted by BobbyVan at 1:10 PM on December 10, 2013


BobbyVan: "Cite?"

If you don't believe that a treatment center that has adequate financial resources will do better than a center that doesn't, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or a homeless shelter, or a soup kitchen, or anything else where we need to take help care of people who can't adequately take care of themselves.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And again, I say, you must not have worked in social services, or you'd know that while money is always a problem, it's not the problem. I don't say this meanly - I just genuinely don't know how to get across the soul-crushing weight of realizing that some of these things just cannot be cured, no matter what is done and no matter how many funders or grants you can reach or get.
posted by corb at 1:33 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're caricaturing my response with the straw man that money can save every single mentally ill and/or substance-addicted person. Of course that's not the case. But more money will help many people, including many with mental illness and addiction problems. At the very least, we put a roof over their head, use harm reduction techniques, and manage the addictions instead of letting them spiral out of control to the point where they're actively harmful to others. We don't devote enough resources to do these basic things to help the easier cases. Your argument that there are people at the very end of the spectrum that are unlikely to accept help is irrelevant when we're not doing enough to help the people who do want help.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:45 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


while money is always a problem, it's not the problem.

The article showed that there was not sufficient money to provide families with non-expired baby formula. There wasn't sufficient money to get rid of the vermin in Dasani's living space. I think we're letting perfect be the enemy of the good here. Talking about individuals and their inability to stay clean is indeed a dispiriting problem, but in the meantime, how about we focus on making sure those struggling individuals are not living in fear of sexual assault every time they go to the bathroom?
posted by brookedel at 2:17 PM on December 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


while money is always a problem, it's not the problem.

It's the primary problem. It's impossible to say what would happen to some of the supposedly incurable people you keep talking about if they received adequate services. I can't imagine anyone with actual frontline experience in social services disputing that. You keep talking about people with mental illness who are hard to treat, but the fact is that a lot of those people are struggling because community services necessary to allow them to live integrated lives in the community were simply never funded after deinstitutionalization. You can't have an honest conversation about what to do with those folks without acknowledging that accessing comprehensive mental health treatment in the US is extremely difficult. And the money is there, it's just being spent on jails, and hospitals, and shelters. NYC is spending $3000/mo to house people in shelters, money that could be spent to just give those people rental subsidies. There are countless other examples of money being wasted on temporary solutions to chronic problems. Another classic example is that you could take a mentally ill person who is committing minor crimes and provide them with housing and treatment, or you could arrest them and spend much more money jailing them. The political system seems to be primarily reactive when it comes to people in crisis, and so you end up with 60K homeless people in NYC.
posted by Mavri at 2:34 PM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Being treated with absolutely no respect would make it an awful lot harder for me to quit escapist drugs, especially if I was failing in the rest of my life. I've fought with depression given an awful lot more support and love than that.
posted by jaduncan at 3:00 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Being treated with absolutely no respect would make it an awful lot harder for me to quit escapist drugs

Well, the drug user would just use that as an excuse to continue using drugs. They would also use a lot of other excuses. The weather is bad: that would be an excuse for continuing to use drugs.

We threw more than $250,000 over several years to my loved one who was addicted to drugs, including a top-notch rehab facility. None of it helped, and he died of an accidental overdose at age 29.
posted by Melismata at 3:04 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


the soul-crushing weight of realizing that some of these things just cannot be cured

Imagine it from the other side, from Dasani's point of view. A young girl who knows, down deep in her soul that she'll never escape the crushing poverty she was born into. A little girl who stops trusting and hoping for things to change because at age 10, she's already seen enough to let her understand it just won't change.

Now imagine that we have the resources to give this child food security, a safe place to sleep, and a place where her parents can find a path to being able to care for her and her siblings.
Those types of things don't come from reactionary, temporary solutions like shelters. They come from long term policy changes that remove a great deal of stigma from poverty and repair our broken and devastated social support network. And that takes money. Lots of it.

Unfortunately, those who control the money for these kinds of programs cling to the idea that you can't fix systemic problems like poverty because "those people have to want to change." But you can't demonstrate that people can change until you can provide a secure path to change that won't be jerked out from under them with the next funding cycle or the next bureaucratic shift.

The insecurities inherent in a system based on temporary solutions does nothing to promote the kind of lifestyle and behavioral adaptations that allows people to move out of these situations. To be able to plan for the future, you have to be able to visualize that you actually have a future.
posted by teleri025 at 3:08 PM on December 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Melismata: " We threw more than $250,000 over several years to my loved one who was addicted to drugs, including a top-notch rehab facility. None of it helped, and he died of an accidental overdose at age 29."

Of course there are people who lose their battle even when so many resources are spent to save them, and I'm truly sorry your loved one was one of them. However, there are also many people who get the right amount of help at the right time and are able to clean up and stay clean. I have several loved ones who've struggled with addiction, one who's been dealing with it for more than twenty years, in and out of facilities, staying clean for a while, falling off the wagon, lather, rinse, repeat. I doubt he'll ever stay clean for long, but I wouldn't want him to stop trying. Others have been able to clean up and not relapse for many years.

The point is, not every addict is easily reachable, but we know there are reachable addicts out there that we're not trying hard enough to reach.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:21 PM on December 10, 2013


Well, the drug user would just use that as an excuse to continue using drugs.

I don't think people are that identical, and I have also known people who died from drug use. I am thinking in particular of one person who was the only person who survived when his military vessel was sunk, and had massive survivors guilt and self-hate. It therefore doesn't surprise me that the phrase self-medication is often more widely used.
posted by jaduncan at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2013


but in the meantime, how about we focus on making sure those struggling individuals are not living in fear of sexual assault every time they go to the bathroom?

That, itself, though, is one of the problems of shelter living. It is widely acknowledged as a problem. The article has called out the most odious form of sexual assault - that of caregiver to client - but the honest truth is that a lot of the people who are homeless are homeless because they cannot function well under the social norms of current society. What do you do with the convicted rapist who can't get an apartment, but makes women uncomfortable? Where does he live? Do you incentivize people to commit sexual assaults by giving him his own nice apartment elsewhere? Or do you keep him with the population? Or do you keep him only with other sexual attackers, virtually guaranteeing that that place will be itself a hotbed of assault?

You keep talking about people with mental illness who are hard to treat, but the fact is that a lot of those people are struggling because community services necessary to allow them to live integrated lives in the community were simply never funded after deinstitutionalization. You can't have an honest conversation about what to do with those folks without acknowledging that accessing comprehensive mental health treatment in the US is extremely difficult.

Sure, it is. But one of the reasons that it is difficult is deinstitutionalization in the first place. Community services necessary to let these people live integrated lives are certainly very expensive, but also often simply not possible. Some of those who came out of the institutions will never live integrated lives again. Institutions got a bad rap, but in many cases it provided a safe, womb-like environment that prevented harm. It just wasn't popular anymore. We should never have opened the mental hospitals and thrown those people onto the streets, and we are still paying the price for that.

NYC is spending $3000/mo to house people in shelters, money that could be spent to just give those people rental subsidies.

I would be extremely interested to see a breakdown of those costs. I find it very unlikely that the room itself and infrastructure costs that much - I would wager that includes the salaries of all of the staff that are trying to support the people at the shelter - staff that would still be needed if people moved into apartments, and which would cost even more if you needed them making field visits every time they needed to see their clients.
posted by corb at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reducing costs was one of the primary drivers of deinstitutionalization, so it's unsurprising that we didn't spend enough to care for people when they got out. Still, saying it was a mistake to deinstitutionalize is like saying that a cake was terrible despite never baking it and only purchasing half of its ingredients.

Had we properly funded community mental health services, deinstitutionalization could have been much more successful. There isn't a more serious incursion on an individual's freedom than institutionalizing someone, so we should always err on the side of giving people a chance to be reintegrated into their communities, even if it means there's a chance that it could backfire in individual cases, or cost more in others.

It's also ridiculous to say community health centers are "often simply not possible." It's always possible to spend some money. It may not be politically feasible, but it's not some violation of the laws of physics to spend money on a societal problem. It's simply perverse to use the fact that we didn't adequately fund mental health care in the 1970s as a means of dismissing calls to adequately fund it now.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:35 PM on December 10, 2013


NYC is spending $3000/mo to house people in shelters, money that could be spent to just give those people rental subsidies.

You haven't tried to price apartments in New York recently, have you?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised no one has mentioned the cost of the Auburn shelter. The article says $9 million/year, which = $4,143 per month per room. This, for a facility that has repeated, serious violations over safety & security every year - and serious deficiencies in services provided.

That doesn't include the cost of the outside services provided by numerous agencies.
posted by Ochiee at 10:26 PM on December 11, 2013


You know, one thing that might do more for these sorts of places than anything else would be requiring all publicly run shelters and agencies to publicly release their budget - including salary lines by title - each year.
posted by corb at 10:16 AM on December 12, 2013


How does that help the shelters or the people they serve besides giving them additional work to do? My feeling is that giving in to the "welfare queen!" nonsense and going through show your work exercises like this only panders to the people who basically don't believe in the social safety net and want to find places to say "AHA!" at and nitpick already-stretched agencies that are already thankless and sometimes unsafe places to work.

It's very hard to serve the hardest to serve. The implication that there are people who use running a shelter as a way to get more income for themselves off of the backs of the desperately poor is offensive. We just wind up with idiot situations like the legislation in Florida requiring welfare recipients to get drug tested because people dislike helping the poor and would rather spend money on a smear campaign alleging that they're doing drugs than face the tough reality that we are one of the richest democracies in the world and yet we don't prioritize keeping our population fed, clothed, sheltered and healthy.
posted by jessamyn at 10:26 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shit, the SEC barely has enough regulatory reach to require disclosure of the salaries of the top five named executive officers of private sector companies, but we're to believe the real problem is people working at homeless shelters? What a diseased way to look at the world.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It actually wouldn't be additional work to do - every place is required to have a budget of their own. All it would require is publishing the document they already have at their disposal.

I don't think anyone is running a shelter as a way to get more income for themselves, and I have reason to know personally that social work, nonprofit work, and any area of work which primarily serves people without a lot of political power is not a high-pay industry. My suggestion that they be required to show their budget is actually from a nonprofit-health side - so that people can be aware how much of the operation is program money and how much is administrative, for example. People saying, "It costs 3,000 a room, just give people 3,000 a month" are clearly unaware of the price of the infrastructure and human infrastructure, much of which could not actually be completely disassembled even if you were to attempt to make such a switch.

And if there's literally not enough money going around to keep rotting walls and rats out, then yes, I think it's time to look at staff and see where you can cut, because your structure clearly is not working.
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2013


And if there's literally not enough money going around to keep rotting walls and rats out, then yes, I think it's time to look at staff and see where you can cut, because your structure clearly is not working.

Whereas I'd look at a situation like that and think that it's time to invest more money for repairs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2013


corb: "It actually wouldn't be additional work to do - every place is required to have a budget of their own. All it would require is publishing the document they already have at their disposal."

It requires a government agency to track the forms, audit questionable filings, and enforce laws against making shit up. I'm glad you finally found a government bureaucracy you can support, though.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2013


I mean, if this were the right thing to do, wouldn't the non-profits that do it your way succeed, and others that don't do it your way fail? Isn't that the American way, letting firms go out of business instead of trying to regulate them?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2013


Well, it depends on how you define "success". I absolutely think that transparent nonprofits succeed at a lot of things - and I'll note that the government agency that tracks the forms is already tracking them and enforcing laws against making shit up. At the moment, I believe it's called the IRS.
posted by corb at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you incentivize people to commit sexual assaults by giving him his own nice apartment elsewhere?

I think you're missing a step between the assault and the apartment - namely, prison. Does a rapist really think "Hm, if I commit this assault, I can get a nice apartment.... after a long stint in prison. Yep, seems worth it to me!"? I really don't give criminals that much credit.
posted by desjardins at 1:11 PM on December 12, 2013


Sadly, I think the Justice Department is also missing that step.
posted by corb at 1:20 PM on December 12, 2013


corb: "Well, it depends on how you define "success". I absolutely think that transparent nonprofits succeed at a lot of things - and I'll note that the government agency that tracks the forms is already tracking them and enforcing laws against making shit up. At the moment, I believe it's called the IRS."

The IRS is not currently micro-managing disclosure of "salary lines by title." This would be an additional burden on an agency that conservatives already say is too big and too complicated.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:07 PM on December 12, 2013


The IRS does require disclosure of board/executive salaries in Form 990 (example here, executive salaries starting on p17), but this is nowhere near the kind of full budget you're talking about. Anyway, all of that is publicly disclosed information already, available directly from the IRS or searchable here.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2013


Very sad, yes sometimes it's down to addiction - but I would like that to be the last card in the pack to be addressed after all the other ones have been taken care of. There was a viable route out of the shelter/hostel for me post addiction, social housing being a large part of that - there were actually other schemes and agencies in place, not as much as now, but there was something. Everybody deserves a chance to at least try to access these rather than being given no chance at all by a system that seems to glory that it's 'losers' fail hard.
There's a colliseum-esque aspect to the treatment of homeless people in NYC that helps no one. Perhaps Foucault wrote about it somewhere.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:45 PM on December 16, 2013


Michael Bloomberg's America
posted by tonycpsu at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


NYT Public Editor: Was the Dasani Series Unfair to Bloomberg, as His Deputies Charge?
posted by lalex at 2:58 PM on December 18, 2013


David Weigel: Republican State Gives Free Houses to Moochers, Cuts Homelessness by 74 Percent
Anyone who lives in or visits San Francisco might chortle at that, because it's easy to find the chronically homeless wandering around busy parts of the city. That's not the point. Utah gave their Housing First subjects housing, which cost money, in the hopes that they'd save money later. A kind of insurance plan. Utah's own calculations suggested that the state would pocket $5000 a year by putting the homeless in apartments, instead of hoping they didn't end up in hospitals.

It's a nice story, and all true. Something to remember when our conversation, in Washington, returns to the best ways to stop paying moochers so they'll learn to become dynamic capitalists.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:43 AM on December 20, 2013


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