The dwindling supply of affordable and supportive housing has pushed near-record numbers of New Yorkers into homelessness. The increase in homelessness and subsequent strain on the shelter system have been acutely felt by homeless people with disabilities, who have found it increasingly difficult to receive an appropriate shelter placement. Nikita Stewart highlighted the problem of disability accommodations in shelters for The New York Times:
As of Wednesday, 59,548 people were staying in shelters overseen by New York City’s Department of Homeless Services. Thousands more people are living on the street, as well as in specialized shelters that serve young adults and domestic violence victims.
For people who are homeless, getting help can be an ordeal, from the arduous application process for shelter to the long wait for a subsidized apartment. For people with disabilities, the shelter system presents particular challenges — cooking, bathing and other basic tasks can seem impossible. And that is after people manage to enter buildings that often lack elevators, automatic doors and handrails.
Advocates have been fighting for years for such accommodations, which are required by state and federal law, and the shortcomings have become more pressing as the city’s homeless rolls have swelled.
The Coalition for the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society and The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY) have been fighting for years on behalf of individuals and families living with disabilities within the shelter system. This ultimately resulted in a class-action lawsuit in response to the City’s failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, in which a settlement is currently being negotiated.
At the same time, the best way to address the issue in the long-term is to reduce the reliance on emergency shelters by providing enough permanent housing resources. Many people with disabilities are eligible for supportive housing, which provides on-site services along with guaranteed affordability. But, as the Coalition found in a recent report, supportive housing placements for single adults have actually decreased despite the historic need – and State leaders have been slow to release funds that would enable the creation of thousands of supportive units.
The shelter system should be made more accessible to people with disabilities, and elected leaders must take immediate action to open housing that would provide this vulnerable population with a path out of homelessness.
Source: Coalition for the Homeless