NYC’s Homelessness Aggravated by COVID-19

NYC Homeless Covid 19

The sight of a homeless person sleeping on a subway car is familiar to most New Yorkers. The trains are often the only places the homeless can find any type of shelter in the city. Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the city, the number of homeless sleeping in subway cars continues to grow. How have leading government officials responded?

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has described the situation as “disgusting” and “disrespectful” to the essential workers who must use the subway system to get to work, and to the MTA staff that maintain the system. However, this language shows absolutely no respect to these people—let us not forget that the homeless are people—and the horrible conditions they are forced to live under. This is not some irresponsible, devious choice that the homeless have consciously made to drag the pandemic out longer. They have no resources to find places to shelter during these frantic times, and what resources were once available are fewer than ever. In other words—it’s about mere survival.

The governor did go on to say that, “we have to do better than this and we will,” when discussing what can be done to help the homeless. But, he did not go any further than empty platitudes. Instead, it has been suggested that more NYPD officers be sent to end-of-line stations to enforce social distancing rules. Meanwhile, as hordes of people congregated in the Village’s parks over the sunny weekend, there was little or no police enforcement whatsoever. The solution isn’t more policing, but to find a way to safely house the homeless.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, MTA Chairman & CEO Thomas F. Prendergast and MTA New York City Transit President Veronique "Ronnie" Hakim announced new initiatives for the transit system as part of the $27 billion capital plan at the New York Transit Museum on Mon., July 18, 2016.
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has described the homelessness situation as “disgusting” and “disrespectful” to the essential workers who must use the subway system to get to work, and to the MTA staff that maintain the system. / Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

As we have explained before, the solution to this problem is simple. Even Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has drawn attention to the fact there are thousands of empty hotel rooms in New York City which could easily be used to house the homeless. Not to mention no fewer than three vacant apartments for every homeless person. It should be easy to address the needs of those currently living in the streets, while also ensuring the safety of essential workers using public transportation.

The obvious problem facing these politicians is the inevitable bill they would receive from the hotels that provide rooms. After all, these hotels exist, not to house humans, but to make profits! So, not only are many hotels looking for a public bailout due to the crisis, they demand that they be allowed to continue making a profit by keeping perfectly usable rooms empty!

Although there is plenty of supply and demand for these rooms, under capitalism, another ingredient is needed: profits. A more damning example of the irrational nature of this system can hardly be found.

Already, the city projects it will have to spend more than $7 billion dollars above budget over the next 15 months fighting the virus. If history is any indication, the working class will be forced to foot the bill at the end of all of this. While corporations will be able to hold on to the immense wealth that they are accumulating, workers will be asked to once again “pitch in” to help keep things afloat.

Midtown Hilton hotel NYC night time
Thousands of empty hotel rooms in New York City could easily be used to house the homeless. / Image: Tdorante10; Wikimedia Commons

Because of their immediate desire for profit, the ruling class disregards any human need that is not immediately connected to this aim. Through the power of the working class, we can put an end to this exploitation by the ruling class that leaves hundreds of thousands of people in the richest without a roof over their heads.

As we explain in our program, the IMT calls for the end of the capitalist housing market, which leads to overcrowding, gentrification , and homelessness. We fight for an immediate moratorium on evictions, with residents of foreclosed properties allowed to stay in their homes. For the nationalization of foreclosed and vacant homes, to be allocated to those in need under democratic public control, with no compensation to the foreclosing owners, except in cases of proven need. Rent for all housing, including Section 8 and government-owned housing, to be fixed at not more than 10% of wages, as part of a voluntary, socialized plan for housing.

The capitalists have held onto empty hotel rooms, apartments, and houses for too long. Under a workers’ government and an economy operated under workers’ control, the housing and hospitality sectors will benefit everyone—and not function as yet another arena for merciless exploitation.

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