NEW YORK — Extreme weather conditions can provide even more severe hardships for already strained homeless families in New York City — including being left out in the freezing cold, according to elected officials.
After nearly a week of below-freezing overnight temperatures, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Annabel Palma, who chairs the general welfare committee, called for the city's Department of Homeless Services to enact immediate changes to emergency housing that would ensure families have a warm place to sleep on cold nights.
In a letter to DHS, Quinn states that the agency's "Code Red" and "Code Blue" policy — which is trigged by dangerously hot or cold temperatures and ensures "homeless single adults" shelter at such times — wrongly denies the same protections to homeless families, including those with children. (Read the full letter here.)
"There is no reason to treat families differently than single adults during dangerous weather; doing so is inequitable, unsafe and cruel," writes Quinn.
"It is unacceptable to deny families shelter when dangerous weather conditions exist, particularly for young children. In extreme weather, the City must err on the side of caution in all cases."
She and Palma urge for the immediate establishment of a policy that would address the needs of families, in the January 26 letter.T
The Coalition for the Homeless has attacked the city's emergency shelter policies, and reported in November that the number of children living in shelters has reached record levels, jumping from 16,000 per night in shelters in 2011 to 20,000 per night staying in shelters in 2012.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services would not supply the wording of the existing policy referenced in Quinn and Palma's letter, but supplied a written statement from the agency in response to the claims.
"All families are granted conditional shelter upon their initial application at PATH [Prevention Assitance and Temporary Housing]," said Barbara Brancaccio, DHS deputy commissioner.
"For re-applicants, we take into account weather conditions, and we work to ensure that applicants who have alternate living situations do not take up beds that are needed by those who truly have no other recourse."
The majority of residents — 72 percent — in shelters qualify as families with children, according to the most recent figures released by DHS.
A shelter census taken on Tuesday, January 23 showed that of the nearly 50,000 homeless in shelters, 34,866 were registered as members of families with children. Meanwhile, 9,808 were single adults, and 3,623 were families with only adult members.