This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
OBJECTIVES: This study examined predictors of entry into shelter and subsequent housing stability for a cohort of families receiving public assistance in New York City.
METHODS: Interviews were conducted with 266 families as they requested shelter and with a comparison sample of 298 families selected at random from the welfare caseload. Respondents were reinterviewed 5 years later. Families with prior history of shelter use were excluded from the follow-up study.
RESULTS: Demographic characteristics and housing conditions were the most important risk factors for shelter entry; enduring poverty and disruptive social experiences also contributed. Five years later, four fifths of sheltered families had their own apartment. Receipt of subsidized housing was the primary predictor of housing stability among formerly homeless families (odds ratio [OR] = 20.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 9.9, 42.9).
CONCLUSIONS: Housing subsidies are critical to ending homelessness among families.¹
Two years ago
Takeesha, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
In her shower, Takeesha has a row of bottles. They are lined up in size order on a tile ledge: the curves of Softsoap, Dove, Suave. More brands than she probably needs or will use. For this, they are perfect. It makes her happy because they are what everyone else has. She tours guests through, pointing.
Before, she stayed in a crack house, sometimes a hotel, and if lucky, there was one soap. Here, she has a Bath and Body Works scent collection. She has a loofa, and on another ledge, tools to exfoliate her body.
Her shower window overlooks the elevated 6 subway train. Every few minutes the rumble begins. At night, the lights go by, illuminating the edges of the rooms alongside the track, casting chops of light through curtainless glass.
The bathroom is small and indicative that she allows others to stay. Multiple towels hang heavy on hangers, warping their centers, from the shower rod.
The medicine cabinet above the sink has no door, a recessed plastic shelf in the wall. There, vaseline, Q-tips, razors, hair styling gel.
In the front room, there are pallets on the floor that run along the wall. Their occupants come and go, sleeping when they need. Those who live in abandoned places, who push shopping carts of metal.
Takeesha buys groceries from the corner bodega and insists that everyone take showers, even those less inclined. Otherwise, she gets loud. "He needs to hang those feet out the window."
The apartment is an illegal sublet, found on Craigslist; eventually she and Steve have to leave.
One-and-a-half years ago
Takeesha and Carmela, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
When Steve was arrested, Takeesha moved to an apartment that slowly maneuvered its way to crack house, where drug dealers and dates come to subsist.
She and a woman named Carmela stay in one half of a bedroom, their relationship formed within the walls of the house. Their room is illegal in the sense that it has no windows or ventilation. It is a trap.
Here, soap is stolen if put out. People trail into and out of the bathroom, and the lock becomes broken with intention.
She and Carmela share a bed, two others in the room, six to ten others around the apartment at the time.
Eventually, the apartment is set ablaze and burns to be unlivable, leaving pieces of walls and loose boards.
One year ago
Takeesha, abandoned house, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha's bathtub is filled with plaster and garbage. She and Steve live on the second floor of an abandoned building, where, to ascend, they pass through a broken window, an entryway of glass shards and dark stairs. They don't have electricity or running water.
Six months ago
Takeesha, working in the snow, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha lives with Carmela while Steve is in jail, a shared room where they paid for their stay with sex.
Three months ago
Takeesha, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha and Steve find another illegal sublet, with rent of $100 a day. They deal and hustle, attempt at living somewhere not requiring months of money upfront or references, a place that isn't an abandoned building, or a room with dealers.
They leave intermittently, unable to afford rent that totals $3000 per month.
Now they try to apply for city housing and struggle for proof of their neediness. Their homelessness has not been documented.
They don't stay in a shelter, no sign-in sheet or ID requirement at an abandoned building, illegal sublet or shared room. None of these have management to whom to speak, bills or documents with Takeesha or Steve's names.
In residency, they are not real.
This is the way it continues.