Monday, November 24, 2008

New York City orders churches not to shelter homeless

NEW YORK — Twenty-two New York City churches have been ordered by the city to stop providing shelter to the homeless.

With temperatures below freezing Saturday, the churches had to follow a city rule requiring faith-based shelters to be open at least five days a week or not at all.

Arnold Cohen, president of the Partnership for the Homeless, a non-profit organization that serves as a link between city officials and shelters, delivered the news to the churches several weeks ago that they no longer qualify.

As a result hundreds of people now won't have a place to sleep, he said.

The city's emergency shelter network contract requires sites to operate at least five nights a week. The 22 churches have limited resources, since they operate their homeless beds using mostly volunteers.

On Saturday, the city Department of Homeless Services said there is plenty of space at other shelters to accept all those who have been sleeping in the churches. The spaces include four new faith-based sites where the number of beds combined with availability amounts to a greater total number of nights for people to stay, said Homeless Services spokeswoman Heather Janik.

There are now about 250 beds in churches, mosques and synagogues. They're close to drop-in centres where people receive other services, including food, Janik said.

"This city is investing more than ever to make sure people have a place to lay their heads at night," she said, adding the number of faith-based and other types of shelter beds will increase by 50 per cent in the next fiscal year to more than 1,000.

Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless non-profit advocacy group disputed the city figures showing an increase in beds. He said the city proposes to close down drop-in shelters overnight.

"That's a net loss," he said.

"However you cut it, there will be less shelter for the street homeless at a time when the economic downturn is causing more homelessness."

Janik said drop-in centres provide only "folding chairs," not beds.

"That's unacceptable and we think there are better programs and ways," she said.

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