Exclusive: Homeless rejection in NYC

March 20, 2011 8:18:43 AM PDT
An Eyewitness News Exclusive Investigation, the heartbreaking saga of homeless families who say they are increasingly being denied shelter in the New York City's homeless system.

Advocates accuse the Bloomberg administration of setting up deliberate obstacles so families will go away.

The commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services had agreed to a sit-down interview with Eyewitness News, and then backed out at the last minute.

Over the past several months, we have been in touch with dozens of homeless families who shared their stories of frustration and desperation.

Eyewitness News met one family with a 16-month old baby outside the city's Prevention, Assistance and Temporary housing shelter in the Bronx. The city requires homeless families to go to PATH to apply for emergency shelter.

"If I have nowhere to go. That's why I'm here. That's what I'm trying to explain to them. If I had somewhere to go, as God is my witness, I wouldn't be putting my son thru this," Jennifer said.

But the family, and many others Eyewitness News met, are literally forced out in the street, found ineligible for shelter services even though they say they've provided documentation they have no other option.

"We came here with an eviction letter and they still tried to tell us we could go back to the evicted apartment," said Jennifer.

The couple documented their urban nomadic journey for us, PATH requires families to come in the evening and apply for an overnight pass.

Video showed, they're bussed to city-contracted rooms in motels, usually in other boroughs.

They were taken overnight to Westway and said there was no heat. The son was coughing.

They're woken up early in the morning to go back to PATH and apply again.

Mary Brosnahan heads the Coalition for the Homeless.

"It's a very expensive revolving door. We're talking about throwing families into places that we as taxpayers pay $3,000 to put them in these hell holes and subject them to this torture upfront," she said.

"Each day when I come here I get put out. They run us out," said Carla Clark.

Clark has four children and it's difficult to keep them in school in Brooklyn when she has to be at PATH every morning in the Bronx to re-apply.

Families aren't allowed to stay at PATH during the day.

"They would say, Oh, well we don't know where you could go," said Samantha. She adds, "Just sleep anywhere."

One young couple with a little baby, told us they try to find anyplace to stay warm during the day-frequently just riding the subway, then returning to PATH at night.

The Coalition for the Homeless believes the city is actively trying to deter families from pursuing shelter.

"It's really capricious whose going to get admitted, who is not. said Mary.

Wallace: "Do you think they just help they will go away?"
"I know they hope they will go away," adds Brosnahan.

Families say they're often told they need more documentation or go to court and sue the city.

One couple only got placed after they went to court and a Judge ordered the city to place them. By then, their baby had been getting sicker by the day. Families, who have to be all together to get shelter find it's a full-time job making it difficult to get out a real job and get out of the homeless hole.

Tomorrow the coalition for the homeless will release a comprehensive report which, independently echoes what our investigation found; that in recent months, more families are seeking shelter and more are being denied. 3,000 families a month are applying and 63 percent are found in-eligible.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates