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Where Do We Go From Here?
Instability is a cause of great suffering. Sometimes it’s for a week, or a year, but often it is a generation problem. Over 14,000 families in New York are currently without housing – enduring endless lines, sleepless nights and a constant insecurity that is passed from parent to child. Earlier in 2015 (at the time of this project), New York peaked with a historically high homeless population of over 60,000.
I began meeting homeless families at the building where most begin processing into the system, the Preventative Assistance and Temporary Housing building (PATH) on 151st street in the Bronx. Between the wrap around scaffolding exasperated families walk in and out, often more upset upon their exit than when they began the process. Some families show up in green taxis and car services stacking luggage and strollers on the curb in front of the building. Many times families are dragging all of their belongings, encumbered by the rolling suitcases and trash bags of clothes, bedding and toys. Some parents stop for a last cigarette before entering PATH, where most families are not processed in less than 6 hours. After 3 p.m. families are immediately processed to be placed in an emergency shelter stay for one night and will be bussed back between 5 and 6am the following morning. Other families attempt to finish all of the food and beverages that they have with them. They will be asked to discard them if they want to enter the building. Standing outside of PATH and watching the endless flow of families going in and out starts to outline the scale of the problems in poor New York. Every family with young children that needs shelter must go through the PATH. I often hear people ask why those parents don’t have jobs. In truth, many don’t. Some have been recently laid off or are battered down emotionally from a myriad of experiences. But many families do have jobs and their reasons for needed housing are equally varied. I have heard families tell of illegal evictions and lay-offs, fights with parents and separation from partners.
“The system is designed to break families apart.” This quote was echoed again and again, as families tried to figure out how to maintain stability for their children, for each other and for themselves. Dormitory housing for single people experiencing homelessness is more cost-effective and widely available. Where does stability fit into the hierarchy of priorities of this complicated system? The title of this project refers to the constant navigation required to obtain a safe and stable environment for families with young children experiencing homelessness.