The legendary abuses of the city’s intake center for homeless families, the Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx, are supposed to be a thing of the past. But a new survey of homeless families backs up what welfare lawyers have been saying: The situation is, if anything, somewhat worse than business as usual.
A city law passed in late May makes it illegal for families to have to sleep on the floor of the intake office while they wait for emergency housing, putting new weight behind a slew of court injunctions that demand the same thing. But although the law was supposed to take effect right away, it hasn’t been enforced. Observers say families are still sleeping on the floors, and conditions at the intake office have stayed much the same.
That means pretty lousy, according to scholar Anna Lou Dehavenon. Her new report, released last week, presents results from a survey of 905 families trying to get shelter through the EAU during four months of last year. The findings are grim.
Once families arrive at the unit, the city is supposed to find them a place to stay within a day. But getting through that 24-hour intake process can be a nightmare, the survey reports.
Two-thirds of all families had to reapply at least once before getting put up. One family applied 29 times over 10 months before getting admitted to the shelter system.
About half of the families at the EAU were getting treated for either anemia or asthma, but many are afraid to leave the center for fear that their case will be closed while they are out of the office.
Families must often wait for 4 to 6 hours before even being entered in the computer system, during which time they may get nothing but water. Outside food and is not permitted in the center, so families must give up any food they have before they enter the office.
Legal Aid Society lawyers working on ongoing EAU lawsuits will appear in court again next Friday to try to force the city to obey the new law. “The city has always claimed the courts were overstepping their powers [with the injunctions], but now there’s a law that says as plain as day that, come 10 o’clock, children should be sleeping in beds, not on office floors,” said Legal Aid’s Steve Banks. “The mayor himself signed a law into effect that prohibits this brutal practice.”