Hotels won’t solve crisis of homelessness

One resident observed women in lingerie leading men down the hallway. Another was approached by an unknown man who offered her work as a prostitute.

That place was a shady Bronx hotel, which was among 57 hotels used by New York City to shelter homeless families with children in 2017. A disturbing report from the city’s Department of Investigation has concluded that the Department of Homeless Services hadn’t sufficiently vetted hotels for illegal activity, including drugs or assault.

It’s deplorable that children can be subjected to such situations. While DHS has changed its use of those hotels and the NYPD is reviewing security, that’s just one problem with the city’s regrettable reliance on hotels, as it uses stopgap solutions for intractable homelessness in NYC.

Residents who live for months in hotels are left without places to cook, and must try to be invisible around other guests. Relatively few services are provided to help adults and children move on. And the worst places are unsanitary, uncomfortable dives. Plus, the practice is expensive: Average room rates with service costs are approximately $75 more than the cost of regular certified shelters. An April analysis from Comptroller Scott Stringer found a nightly rate of $549 near Times Square.

That kind of cost for this kind of imperfect fix is outrageous. Homelessness is a major and long-standing challenge in an expensive metropolis. The city has both a moral and legal responsibility to shelter those in need, and the record numbers of those seeking shelter every night — above 60,000 — has led to hotels and often-dangerous “cluster” housing. Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to end both in his homeless initiative announced last February, aiming to open 90 shelters within five years. It has been slow going. Only eight have been opened since February.

Some NIMBY neighborhoods have opposed shelters despite localized services being a key to helping the homeless. That opposition is New York at its worst. Shelters should only be temporary residences that help people on the road to permanent affordable housing. Hotels are not the answer.


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