They’re everywhere — on subway platforms, in phone booths, in elevators and on taxi TV screens: the faces of some of the city’s youngest homeless.
The advertising campaign by the Coalition for the Homeless reveals that about 20,000 children are homeless this year in New York City, up from about 16,000 last year.
And those numbers only include children sleeping in shelters with their families each night.
“If anything, it understates how bad the problem is,” said Patrick Markee at the Coalition for the Homeless.
“It doesn’t include people living in a precarious situation, like doubled-up families or kids sleeping on the couches or floors of friends or relatives,” added Carla Brown, Partnership for the Homeless director.
A Department of Homeless Services source said they do not encounter homeless families on the street.
Markee acknowledged that the economy is partly to blame. But he and other advocates also blame the cessation of a program that helped transition families out of shelters.
In February, the city stopped subsidizing the rent of approximately 7,000 families through Advantage, a rent-subsidy program that provided monthly vouchers for up to two years.
Brown said people are now stuck between a shelter and rents they cannot afford.
“It affects people’s ability to move out of the shelter system,” Brown said. “The hope was that people would get back on track, but there aren’t that many avenues to help a family move out and get into someplace stable.”
Markee said the ads are meant to be “a wake-up call.”
“A combination of factors, including the economy and the loss of Advantage state funding, has led to an increase in the families with children census — but we are actively linking heads of household to employment supports and the services they need to regain self-sufficiency and rejoin communities as quickly as possible,”?DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik said.
A day in the life of a homeless child
Cavita, a domestic violence survivor, lives in a family shelter with her four daughters. They sleep on bunk beds and have a small bathroom and kitchen to themselves.
The kids attend school and do homework at an after-school program until Cavita picks them up after her job caring for the elderly around 6:45 p.m. They have a regular routine like any other family: dinner, shower, bedtime.
But they’ve already had to change schools multiple times with every new move, and chances are they’ll do so again if Cavita can’t find an apartment in the same area.
“They get accustomed to where they are, their friends, their teachers,” Cavita said. “But it’s going to be hard to bring them back and forth on the train every day and get to work too.”
The girls are happy in school, for the most part, she said. But some of the other kids know they live in a shelter and make fun of them.
A classmate teased her daughter, “Look, homegirl right there lives in a shelter.”
“She was crying,” Cavita recounted. “There’s just not anything I can do about the situation right now.”
But she’s been saving money since August and is hopeful they can move soon.
“Once they have their own home, they’ll be OK,” Cavita said.