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Study: Heating, Shelter Assistance Not Enough, Leads to Homelessness

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016   

ALBANY, N.Y. - New York officials agree, the state has a homeless problem. The reasons behind the state's growing homeless population however, are constantly debated.

But a report by the Empire Justice Center suggests part of the problem may have to do with the heating and shelter allowances given to people who rely on public assistance, which Senior Staff Attorney Saima Akhtar says haven't kept up with increases in rent or heating costs.

"The shelter allowance hasn't been raised since 2003 the utility allowance has remained the same since 1987," says Akhtar. "The inadequacies of these allowances is a consistent problem in every part of the state. We need the governor and the legislature to come together to solve the problem."

Akhtar says the inadequate heating and shelter assistance isn't enough to keep many of New York's most vulnerable families from teetering on the edge of having housing or becoming homeless. The ones who suffer the most, she says, are children of families who suddenly find themselves without a roof over their heads.

"Homeless children have worse physical health," says Akhtar. "They are less likely to have regular medical care and are less likely to be forced to rely on emergency rooms. They often experience delayed educational achievement. Homeless children also experience more mental health and behavioral health problems."

Data from the New York State Education Department shows the population of school children considered homeless increased by more than a third between 2009-2014. The Empire Justice Center report, calls for an increase in shelter allowances to 50 percent of fair market rents and an increase in heating allowances that are also proportionate to market rates.


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