It is generally assumed, except by the most hardened reactionaries, that governments, even under capitalism, have a responsibility to ensure that children’s basic needs for housing, health care, food and education are met.
However, this basic tenet is being undermined across the U.S., as states cut back essential programs for children, under the pressure of the economic crisis and the greedy 1%.
In New York City, the “richest city” in the country, 20,000 children now live in shelters. This is the largest number of homeless children here since the Great Depression. It is expected only to get worse.
Unemployment, low-wage jobs, combined with exorbitant rents and gentrification of working-class communities by big real estate interests have created the perfect storm underlying growing homelessness.
In 2005, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with great fanfare, announced that he would decrease the number of homeless people, 33,000, by two-thirds within four years.
The city then stopped prioritizing homeless families for federal assistance for housing and financial aid, programs which help people stay in permanent homes.
After the administration implemented those cutbacks, the number of homeless families rose. Today, 11,000 families and 46,000 individuals are without homes, the highest levels since the 1930s. African Americans and Latinos/as have been disproportionately impacted.
For the 20,000 homeless children today and those of the future — as there is no end in sight for this catastrophic situation — it’s devastating. It affects their emotional and physical health, their school attendance and achievement, and more.
Exacerbating the crisis further, the city ended all housing assistance for homeless families more than a year ago, forcing more people into shelters. Additionally, Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut $48 million and $65 million, respectively, for programs aiding families in obtaining permanent housing.
Now, the pro-corporate city administration has descended so low as to wrongfully deny even shelter access, so that this year, only 35 percent of applicant families were approved to enter the facilities, say the Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society.
The two organizations said in their testimony at a Sept. 25 New York City Council Committee on General Welfare meeting, “In recent months, the NYC Department of Homeless Services has begun to deny overnight shelter placements to homeless children and families, even during declared weather emergencies.” The doors are shut even to those with serious health problems.
When confronted at the City Council meeting about homelessness, NYC Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond was intransigent. He insisted that there would be no city aid forthcoming to help families get permanent housing.
Bloomberg’s response to the emergency is to open five more homeless shelters.
Bloomberg and Cuomo should be held accountable for their roles in worsening the homeless crisis. The city and state should immediately rescind the budget cuts, and refund and implement all housing assistance programs to enable families to obtain permanent residences. The city should allot a sizable number of its apartments for homeless families, and more.
Homelessness is innate to capitalism. It worsens during an economic decline.Housing for all should be included as part of progressive struggles all over the country.
In a humane, socialist society, where people’s needs are the priority, the necessities of life for all, especially the needs of children, would be guaranteed. Public housing would not be a hot potato for the superrich and their politicians to ignore and evade.