As one would expect, advocates for the poor oppose the policy, which has already led to sad circumstances for homeless individuals. Consider the experience of Vanessa Dacosta, whom the article highlights. Dacosta is a single mother who lives in a city shelter. She makes $8.40 per hour and $800 per month as a cashier at Sbarro pizzeria. The city has informed Dacosta that she must pay $336 in monthly rent to the shelter or vacate the premises.
Dacosta spends $400 a month on childcare. The rental policy will force her to live on $64 per month after she pays her rent and childcare. Sadly, Dacosta would bring home about the same amount of money if she did not work at all. Without a job, she would have to struggle to pay for childcare, but she would not have to pay rent to the city. This policy clearly creates perverse incentives for people who, like Dacosta, are fortunate enough to find employment and who want to escape the shelter by saving money to pay for rent.
The article provides a stunningly callous statement from Robert Hess, the city's homeless commissioner:
I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t . . . .I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Our objective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community.I suspect that if Hess had spoken with Dacosta, rather than a reporter for the New York Times, he would have had a difficult time convincing her that the rental policy would not have an adverse impact on her life.
I usually do not "yell" on this blog, but this policy represents one of the most despicable examples of governmental callousness in recent memory. While this nation recklessly pours trillions of dollars into reckless financial institutions, New York City -- which houses many of those reckless financial institutions -- has quietly decided to force its most destitute and disadvantaged residents to pay rent at homeless shelters. Although this policy is even more offensive than AIG's bonus payments, I suspect that it will not create as much of a media frenzy. I hope I am wrong about this, but poor people are not "sexy" enough for mainstream media coverage.
Final question: Where are agents of change?