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City Shelters, Local Food Pantries Swelling From Influx of Families

Occupancy in city shelters is highest in history, while local food pantries see big uptick

The length of stay at New York City homeless shelters for families with children jumped more than 30 percent during the fiscal year that ended in June, says the Wall Street Journal (paywall).

The city is dealing with the highest shelter occupancy record in history, says newly released numbers.

Records show that for families with children, the average length of stay is 337 days. For adult families, the average stay is 414 days, an 18.6 percnt jump from the previous fiscal year. For single adults in shelters, the average stay is 270 days, an 8 percent increase from the previous fiscal year, says the paper.

This week, the total citywide shelter population was around 44,604, a nearly 17.5 percent increase from last summer, city records show. To deal with this, the city quickly opened nine new shelters between June and early August – with two locations in Brooklyn.

"The fact that the numbers are going up is, of course, some concern, but there's a broader picture here, where there's been funding that was available that is not available," Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, told the paper.

Anthony Butler, executive director of food pantry, located at 795 Lexington Ave, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant, said their pantry, which serves primarily families – including working families as well as families that are under-employed or unemployed— also has seen a 50 percent increase in the use of its services over the last year, according to a recent July report.

“It's interesting, we have a large social services program where we provide assistance with food stamps and immigration issues, etc., and we've seen a huge uptick in the number of immigrant families in need of our services.

Most recently, St. Johns held an online baby shower for a handful of the organization’s families in which they raised money online for struggling families with newborns.

“We did a campaign for diapers, because one of the things new mothers are having a hard time affording is pampers.”

Diamond added, the city is working to lower the length of time people stay in city shelters, pointing to that fact that last week 140 families left the shelters. "There are economic trends that are improving in New York City faster than the rest of the country but it's still tough times."

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