Homeless discussion reflection

On April 6th, 2021, citizen journalism and deliberation at Pace University met to discuss the important issue of homelessness in New York City. The discussion was supposed to be focused around New York City, but quickly shifted to the growing homeless epidemic around the country. During the discussion we talked about “Tent Town” in Los Angeles, California and in Austin, Texas. The use of tents is supposed to offset the building of actual homeless shelters. We also discussed the homelessness right underneath our noses at Pace University. One of the students talked about how she had helped homeless students and let them sleep in her dorm. Another student opened up about their experience with homelessness. They explained that a friend saved them from homelessness by loaning them money. I reminded the class that the American dream has skewed our view on money and that most of the population is closer to homelessness then they are to being a millionaire.

My favorite take from the discussion was a story about an encounter a student had on the subway. A homeless person was asking for directions to city hall because they could not remember their name. The student then spewed about how homelessness can be so dehumanizing. People ignore you and don’t even look at you because they don’t see you as a part of society. Not only is being homeless physically taxing, but mentally exhausting. People lose all sense of self worth. A common argument for homelessness is go out and find a job, but people fail to realize that homelessness can lead to a string of mental illnesses that need to be treated first. Throwing someone back into the fibers of society after being abused by it takes time. The discussion turned to mental health after this point was brought up. America’s view on mental health is ancient and unaccommodating. Mental health has to be considered as important, if not more important than physical health.

Homelessness has been increasing due to the pandemic. Homelessness is something America refuses to acknowledge because it goes against its capitalist agenda. The more we try to ignore homelessness the worse it will get. Next time you see a unhoused neighbor remember to give them a smile or a dollar; realize they are human too.

The anti-homeless ways of New York City

New York's homeless left out in the cold | Homelessness News | Al Jazeera

New York City is home to 380,000 millionaires and 65 billionaires. On the other side of the spectrum, 1 in 106 is considered homeless in New York City. Every night nearly 4,000 sleep on the street, in the subway system, or in public spaces. The city may be a playground to the rich and spontaneous but it is no friend to our unhoused neighbors. 

Hostile architecture, or its true name “anti-homeless architecture” can be displayed as metal studs on flower beds or armrests on benches. Anti-homeless architecture is littered across New York City, but if you have a roof over your head you probably won’t notice. 

There are 500 privately owned public spaces in New York City. Private-owned public spaces are required to be open to the public. In 2017, the New York City comp controller at the time found that more than half of the buildings were in violation of this rule. Some spaces like the Plaza have taken measures to remove their anti-homeless architecture, but some spaces make it very clear they don’t want people “hanging out.” 

2,400 people use the MTA subway system to sleep in every night. Every person in New York City has a right to sleep in a shelter, but some unhoused neighbors choose to sleep in the subway system. A survey found that most prefer the A or E line because they run all night. Unhoused neighbors choose the subway over shelters for various amounts of reasons. The top three reasons are experiences of violence, no privacy, or far away from their community. With this in mind, applying and qualifying for sheltered living can take up to 3 months. 

New York City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Should it be the cities responsibility to help care for the less fortunate population of New York City? Does hostile architecture really deserve to be used in the city? Is it fair to say that sheltered housing is available when the process to qualify can take 3 months? Unhoused neighbors are unlucky enough, does the city have to make it harder on them?

Work Cited

https://gothamist.com/news/facts-about-homeless-subway