Under a secret program, New York City has been shipping its homeless population to other cities without telling those cities about the program.
The Special One-Time Assistance Program (SOTA) provides homeless families with transportation to another city and rent for one year. The families are not connected to social services or otherwise monitored.
Over the past two years, NYC has sent more than 12,480 people to 373 cities throughout the country and to Puerto Rico. The program has cost upwards of $89 million (for rent) and an undisclosed sum for travel expenses and furnishings.
The program is obviously not in the best interest of the families, but NYC’s Department of Homeless Services actually supports it because it costs less money to pay rent in other cities than it does to run homeless shelters in New York City.
Homeless shelters in NYC cost roughly $41,000 per family per year, compared to the average annual rent for one family in the US, which is about $17,560.
As you can imagine, cities on the receiving end of the program are not happy. Lawmakers in New Jersey are working on legislation to block NYC from sending homeless people to the state.
Mayor Tony Vauss of Irvington, NJ, which unwittingly received 278 SOTA families, says he is “highly disturbed by the lack of communication from New York and the lack of oversight of this program by the city.”
These families “require ongoing social services and resources,” continues Vauss. “Therefore, once SOTA ceases funding, program recipients end up using our state and local resources to maintain themselves.”
A handful of SOTA recipients are suing New York City based on the conditions of the places they were sent to live.
Sade Collington and her family were sent to an apartment in East Orange, NJ that had no water, heat, or electricity. “It was completely unlivable. We could not stay there any longer. We went to a shelter for another six months.”
The New York State Senate has opened an investigation into the program based on such complaints.
“We were initially seeing a lot of complaints about conditions,” admits policy analyst Jacquelyn Simone. “Now that the program has been in operation long enough that the SOTA subsidy is expiring, one of our main concerns is it might not be realistic for people to be entirely self-sufficient after that first year.”