A New York City program that relocates its homeless to other cities around the country is drawing fire from Marietta leaders who say they learned it was happening from a newspaper article.
The program is the subject of a lawsuit filed Dec. 1 by the city of Newark, New Jersey, which is one of the destination cities for New York’s homeless. The lawsuit argues the program pressures desperate homeless to accept substandard housing conditions and that slumlords benefit from the city’s program that pays for a year’s rent with no checks on the living conditions. CNN has reported that New York City has agreed to temporarily suspend the program.
Marietta City Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said at the City Council's Nov. 26 work session that she was "astonished" when she read a recent article in The New York Post that cited city records indicate New York City has sent homeless families to 373 cities around the country including Marietta, Kennesaw and Smyrna.
According to the Post report, two homeless New York residents have been sent to Smyrna, while Marietta and Kennesaw have received one each. Other metro cities where New York’s homeless were relocated include Atlanta, East Point, Decatur, Stone Mountain, Alpharetta, Loganville, Lilburn, Lawrenceville and Riverdale.
The Post also reported that since the program started in 2017, New York has relocated 5,074 families, or 12,482 people, to other areas within the city, state or around the country.
Clients must show proof of income and have the future ability to pay their rent based on an amount that does not exceed 50 percent of their income, according to the city’s website. No other details about eligibility, including whether clients have to have family or employment waiting in another city or state, were provided on New York City’s website about the program.
Kelly said the cities which have received the relocated families, including Marietta, have not been made aware of the program.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called and emailed New York City officials to get more details about the program, but no one with the city government responded to those requests.
Kelly said Marietta and Cobb County do a great job taking care of homeless people who are already living in the county, and taking on “the plight of another state” is something Marietta is not equipped to do.
“We don’t want to be the place where people are sending their homeless population,” she said. “We want them to be addressing their own needs, as we are doing ours.”
Kelly wants the city to research what options it has, including whether it could ask New York City to alert Marietta when it plans to send a person to its jurisdiction. City Attorney Doug Haynie said his research won’t be a “quick fix,” but he expects to make a recommendation by January for council members to consider.
Jennifer Bennett, a spokeswoman with the city of Smyrna, said its homeless population is “known to us” and the city is not aware of anyone from New York City who has relocated to its jurisdiction. Smyrna has about five people they’ve identified as homeless who live within the city limits.
“Our police department keeps an eye out for their welfare and checks on them from time to time, especially when weather conditions are unfavorable,” she said.
Cobb officials are concerned that the relocated homeless could place a strain on the county’s service agencies. Kaye Cagle, spokeswoman with MUST Ministries, the Cobb-based charity that provides services for the homeless, said no one on the nonprofit’s staff has had any contact with anyone who relocated to the area under New York’s program.
Tyler Driver, executive director of The Extension in Marietta, also said his organization has not had any contact with clients who have come from New York. The Extension provides long-term residential treatment to homeless people battling addictions.
New York City’s program sparked a debate among Marietta’s elected officials. Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson said the practice of one government sending homeless people to other jurisdictions is nothing new.
In the 1990’s, Project Homeward Bound used funding from Fulton County to provide one-way bus tickets for homeless people to leave town as long as they could prove they had family or a job waiting at their final destination. The program initially required recipients to promise they would not return to Atlanta, but managers of the program later dropped that caveat.
Richardson said she was concerned about infringing on another person’s constitutional right to move freely. “Stopping this is going to be impossible,” she said of New York’s program, adding she wasn’t sure if Marietta had the ability to require New York inform other cities of its actions.
Councilman Reggie Copeland said the issue magnifies the crisis of homelessness around the country since cities like New York and Marietta are all grappling with homelessness.
“It’s not just local, it’s global,” he said.
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