Sunday, October 3, 2010

200 Families on Brink of Homelessness Being Treated Like 'Rats in Lab Experiment' by Tina Moore - NY Daily News

Mayor Bloomberg's New York isn't the New York City I grew up in...

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Angie Almodovar, with daughters Emerald, 8, and Jazlyn, 1, at home in Bronx, says Homebase program was her 'only chance.'

The city has told 200 families on the brink of homelessness to fend for themselves in an experiment that has cruelly turned them into virtual lab rats.
In an attempt to test how well a one-stop assistance program is working, the Department of Homeless Services split 400 struggling families into haves and have-nots.
The "haves" get rental assistance, job training and other services through a program called Homebase.
The other half wasn't so lucky.
Those people - chosen at random - were dubbed the "control group" and shut out of Homebase for two years. Instead, they were handed a list of 11 agencies and told to hunt for help on their own.
The city will still be watching them, but for a whole different reason.
For two years, researchers will track the separate groups by their Social Security numbers to see how each "uses city services ... such as shelter, public assistance, foster care," city documents state.
Some advocates for the homeless called the $368,000 taxpayer-funded analysis a study in callousness.
"These are real parents and children, not rats in a lab experiment," said Patrick Markee, a senior analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless.
City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, who heads the General Welfare Committee, said vulnerable New Yorkers "should never be steered away from the services and benefits for which they are eligible."
Starting in August, letters went out to 400 families and individuals applying to join Homebase, telling them they would be part of the study. Those picked make up about 5% of the 7,700 families that used the program last year.
The city defended the plan.
"We serve thousands of people through this program, and this study is only looking at 400 people," Deputy Homeless Services Commissioner Ellen Howard-Cooper said.
Researchers will watch both groups to see if the "control group" families find help through other agencies or wind up in shelters, officials said.
Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said the study could reveal flaws in the Homebase program, which costs $23million a year. Improved homeless-prevention programs would, in the end, keep families or individuals out of shelters, he said.
"Not doing it would risk putting the city in a position where it's building shelters and condemning communities to building shelter when there's a better way to serve people," he said.
Single mother Angie Almodovar wasn't too pleased when she got the one-page form letter in August.
"It was like playing Russian roulette," said Almodovar, 27, who is pregnant and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Mount Hope in the Bronx with her 8- and 1-year-old daughters.
She said she has called the agencies listed in the letter, and none could help.
Almodovar lost her job at an alarm company in 2008 and ran out of unemployment benefits over the summer. She went to Homebase in August while facing eviction because she owes $3,400 in back rent, she said. "Homebase was my only chance," she said.
Researcher John Mollenkopf, director of CUNY's Center for Urban Research, is managing the study. He said for the test to work properly, it had to be random.
"By doing the research, we learn something that's going to be extremely valuable for a much larger population," he said.