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CNN Today

New York Strives to Shelter Homeless

Aired December 25, 2000 - 4:39 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Harsh weather and a housing shortage have many of the nation's homeless wondering how they will survive the winter.

CNN's correspondent Maria Hinojosa reports on the plight of the homeless in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a bitter cold night, a group of city outreach workers hikes down a small hill in the Bronx. Using abandoned train tracks as their guide, they see a cluster under a bridge. From afar, it looks like garbage.

Under layers of old coats and rags, their faces become visible. At least one refuses their help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not, I'm not, I'm not homeless; no I'm not.

HINOJOSA: He shares his so-called home with a raggedy cat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time you were in the hospital, Jose (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About one year.

HINOJOSA: Up the hill, it's too dark to see the rats swarming over a garbage dump where Earl (ph) lives.

(on camera): You feed the rats poison and glass?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I need glass (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HINOJOSA (voice-over): His shelter is inside a tunnel, warm amid the trash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll make it here.

HINOJOSA (on camera): Over the past decade there have been fewer homeless people on the streets; but this past year the number of people seeking shelter grew sharply once again. City mayors say a strong economy has made housing too expensive for the working poor, and they blame government agencies for not creating enough affordable housing to keep up with the demand.

MARY BROSNAHAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS: We're, unfortunately, at this real crossroads right now where we have the danger of returning to where we were just a decade ago.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): In New York city alone 25,000 homeless men, women and children now seek emergency shelter on an average day; yet advocates say there's little prospect of placing them in affordable housing.

STEVEN BANKS, LAWYER FOR HOMELESS ADVOCATES: New York city and other parts of the country continue to view homelessness as a matter of providing shelter to people rather than dealing with the underlying, driving causes of homelesness. This is a lack of housing.

HINOJOSA: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has fought homeless advocates in court for years, even though New York is the state with a constitution that guarantees a right to shelter.

But now, facing predictions of an extraordinarily harsh winter, even the city has changed course.

MARTIN OESTERREICH, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF HOMELESS SERVICES: It's an obligation that we have to the people who are in a bad situation. This mayor has been extremely supportive of that. We need to take people off the streets.

HINOJOSA: So, just this month, the city has added 500 beds for single, homeless adults and created another 800 spaces for families with children.

(on camera): You're ready to go to the shelter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm definitely ready to go. It's getting cold out here.

HINOJOSA (voice-over): City officials say the rising numbers reflect their success in bringing folks out of the cold, but these families say conditions inside city facilities are lacking.

BRIAN HARRISON: Well, at night you have, you know, some roaches crawling around. You've got kids sleeping on the floor; they're vomiting all over the place. The porters don't even mop up until, like, maybe two times a day..

HINOJOSA: The city says conditions are improving and they're ready for the rising numbers.

Meanwhile, Franklin (ph) has found his own shelter: a shack built under a tree, with an old chair, a closet and a stove.

Maria Hinojosa, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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