This story first ran in Youth Today here.
Here’s an excerpt:
UPDATE: A young man staying in a Sheltering Arms youth shelter tested positive for COVID-19 Monday. The Chronicle of Social Change reported that he had been isolated. The Coalition for Homeless Youth and Legal Aid Society called for increased financial support from the city for homeless youth providers. Read the full statement here.
NEW YORK — As a global pandemic looms over New York City, one group in particular might be getting left behind, homeless youth — a vulnerable subset of the general homeless population made up of runaway youth, LGBTQ teens and other young people experiencing homelessness.
As confirmed cases ramp up to more than 9,000, New York City homeless shelters are put in a particularly precarious situation. New Yorkers are encouraged to keep six feet away from each other and self-isolate when necessary — a nearly impossible challenge for people who must live in group settings like shelters.
While the Department of Homeless Services has released guidelines for how adult homeless shelters should respond to health guidelines, the agency that oversees youth shelters, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), has not released its own set of guidelines.
It doesn’t make sense to create blanket guidelines, as each youth shelter is so different, said Randy Scott, the agency’s runaway and homeless youth service coordinator.
Providers are in the process of planning how youth shelters — which are smaller shelters that usually include no more than 20 beds — are going to handle the global pandemic as it runs rampant in New York City. Some advocates see the agency’s reluctance to put out guidelines as dangerously negligent.
DYCD’s “complete negligence of the needs of youth experiencing homelessness and their contracted providers regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is dangerous and exemplary of the mismanagement in their agency,” the Coalition for Homeless Youth said in a statement.
In the last week, a few nonprofits have taken to opinion columns to express their frustrations with how the city is handling social, particularly youth shelters. Michelle Yanche, the executive director of Good Shepherd Services, which offers residential housing for at-risk New York City youth, wrote that the city is not providing guidance fast enough to social service workers. The city’s hands-off approach is leaving providers uncertain about whether they can close certain programming for the safety of their staff and not incur huge financial cuts, she said.
“While many companies and individuals have the ability to pack up their laptops and head home to weather the storm, it’s a different reality for those in the social services sector,” Yanche wrote. “Our staff are the ones on the front lines every day, risking their own health to ensure New Yorkers have what they need when it matters the most.”
President of The Children’s Village Jeremy Kohomban, wrote in amNY about his concerns for the Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., temporary home for roughly 300 children in New York City, with 112 staff members on site.
“We are following government guidelines to ensure that we are taking every necessary precaution, including performing daily sanitation of all our facilities, no small task given our size,” Kohomban wrote. “But we need to do much more than that.”
While it’s true that all youth shelters operate differently based on their size and various services, DYCD has the power to control larger decisions such as shutting down certain programming, staggering staff schedules and designating shelters as isolation centers, said Beth Hofmeister, a Legal Aid Society homeless rights attorney.
“Right now, it kind of feels like you have to give all the services or nothing,” Hofmeister said. “But [the DYCD] has an ability to look at the system as a whole to figure this out.”
Scott said that daily communication and following the safety guidelines already set by the New York City Department of Health and the state has so far been successful.
“Everybody is moving at an expeditious rate,” Scott said. “Communication has been at an all-time high. Collaboration has been at an all-time high.”
But Kohomban said that while he has received several long emails from the city agency, they have yet to offer any concrete help. And the city isn’t seeking out input from The Children’s Village in its planning process, he said.
‘We are on the front lines doing this work every day,” Kohomban said in an email. “Why not include us in the planning? We have good ideas that should make this more manageable. We are all in this together. Government should not feel that they MUST have all the answers — we have very good and pragmatic ideas as well.”
There are some providers who think DYCD is doing a good job communicating with agencies.
Keisha Phipps, the vice president and chief administrative officer of CORE Services Group, said the DYCD is publishing daily vacancies so that all providers know what’s available and can connect young people with open beds at any DYCD-funded shelter.
“We’re very collaborative in that space,” she said. “All the providers really work together to make sure that there’s never a young person who doesn’t have a bed. The alternative right now is couch surfing or living on the street, and that’s not even an option right now.”
Everyone is generally very communicative in the Department of Homeless Services and DYCD, but now they’re all ramping up communication and acting as quickly as possible, Phipps said.