Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Summer's surge in homelessness

Once it gets warm here in the States, many families find themselves without a home. Landlords and relatives are not as patient when the weather gets warm, because the people who get kicked out are not in danger of freezing. Many parents will also try to sacrifice everything they can to stay in their homes, so their children can complete the years schooling.

From The New York Times, writer Julie Bosman looks into this yearly surge in homelessness.

Many New Yorkers view summer as a time for vacations, camp and lazy days at the beach. But city officials have been preparing for quite a different summer ritual: the swelling of the population of homeless families.

They call it the summer surge, and say that this year could be the worst yet.

Because the homeless population this spring was up more than 20 percent over last spring, possibly because of higher unemployment, officials are girding for an all-time high in the number of families in shelters at once, expecting close to 10,000. Already, the number has reached 9,420.

Other cities are noticing a similar trend. In Toledo, Ohio, one overcrowded shelter has been turning away dozens of people each night. In Charlotte, N.C., a shelter that is typically open only in winter has stayed open for the summer to meet demand, which is 20 percent higher than last summer. Across town, a Salvation Army shelter is so full, it has set up mats on the floors.

The reasons are varied but simple. Landlords who are reluctant to evict during winter are less hesitant when it is warmer. Parents like the Maldonados, who have endured poor housing conditions to spare their children agitation and humiliation at school, finally pack up and leave. And relatives who have taken in families in cramped apartments lose patience when children are suddenly underfoot all day long.

“When school’s open, families tend to stay where they are,” said Deronda Metz, the director of social services for the Salvation Army in Charlotte. “And when school’s out, they’re told it’s time to go.”

In New York, the number of homeless families applying for shelter in the summer has been 28 percent higher than the rest of the year the last three years. Their first stop is the intake center, a 24-hour, sprawling 66,000-square-foot brick building in the Bronx. They must walk through metal detectors, must submit to questioning from social workers and, after hours of waiting for their names to be called, are bused to a temporary hotel room or apartment.

Workers have begun to make room for the hundreds of extra families that are expected at the center this summer. On the second floor, all of the cubicles in one room were dismantled, replaced by rows of plastic chairs to make a waiting room for up to 114 people. Rows of boxy light gray metal lockers — each large enough to hold several suitcases — were installed. Employees at the intake center are being limited to one week of vacation during July and August.

Just a few hours after the public schools let out for summer, families began trickling into the center, their faces tight with stress. One woman walked briskly inside with her young son, who wore a bright blue backpack and held an armful of books. Another woman, who would not give her name, waited outside with her daughter, who had just finished second grade. “My sister said we couldn’t stay with her anymore,” she said, fanning herself for some relief from the humidity. “I said once she’s done with school, we’d get out.”

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