Aine scaled

Improvising to aid most vulnerable

From left, Áine Duggan, President & CEO of the Partnership for the Homeless, with supporters Anne O’Neill and Dorothy Rushing at the Oct. 29 launch party for the Partner for Education Fund, which aims to prevent generational homelessness for the 22,000 children living in New York City shelters. PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT


By Peter McDermott

“It is some challenge.”

That may an understatement from Áine Duggan, but still the Partnership for the Homeless has remade itself as a fully remote operation for the pandemic crisis.

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The group, led by the West Cork native for the past year or so, was founded three decades ago “to provide emergency shelter through public-private partnerships.” Its work has evolved “to include an array of prevention services for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness, or who are rebuilding their lives after leaving shelters.”

“It’s been hectic this week,” Duggan said at the weekend.

The first task was to ensure her team were in contact using Zoom, and then through the same method to conduct sessions with current clients. The Partnership for the Homeless also checked in by phone with all of its clients from the last two or three years, which was generally much appreciated by them. “The social connection is nice,” Duggan said.

“The main issue for us is what we expect as a tsunami of people in rent arrears and facing evictions in the coming while,” she said.

“The eviction moratorium [enacted by the State], while a great measure, is not a panacea,” she added. “It seems quite a few folk think it means the housing matter of this crisis is solved. It isn’t.

"We, along with many other organizations, are calling for a rent and mortgage freeze as a next step to the eviction moratorium.

"Essentially we are saying that what is needed in this moment is a freeze on rents and mortgages so that people can keep their homes, and not end up in an already overcrowded shelter system," she said. "And that many small landlords who depend on rental income to pay their mortgages don't themselves fall on hard times.

“There’s also the issue of people getting sick and dying in the shelters of course. Sadly, there is only one answer to that — they shouldn’t be there in the first place,” said Duggan, who is actively seeking out and promoting approaches for homelessness that have been tried and worked in other western countries.

“There are a few voices criticizing the City, but in fairness, DHS [Department of Homeless Services] is doing the best it can under the circumstances — and its workers on the front lines are at risk too,” she said.

“In some ways what is happening in the shelters reflects what is happening in societies across the world — the illness may not discriminate, as people keep saying, according to income, race, nationality, etc., but our societies do,” she continued, “and those structural discriminations we’ve constructed for ourselves will play a part. [And so] the most vulnerable among us and the people who have the least are likely to take the brunt of it.

“Food is another factor,” Duggan said, “as in people running out of it in their homes and the emergency food system is buckling a bit.”

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