MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – The bad economy and low-income jobs have many Mount Vernon residents in a situation where one event that causes them to spend more money than they have could push them over the edge into homelessness.
Dennis Hanratty, executive director of Mount Vernon United Tenants, says the city currently has a low level of “street homelessness,” but that if the many people living in illegal apartments were counted, the numbers would show 2,000 more homeless people in Mount Vernon.
“There are a lot of hidden homeless, too, that are not counted towards the homelessness numbers,” Hanratty said. “Some people are living with three other families in a single-bedroom apartment. In illegal basement or attic apartments, wires are often jimmied. I’m surprised there are not more fires.”
Hanratty said he knows of people who live in their cars or camp out in places like Memorial Field. He said United Tenants provides a Homelessness Prevention Program that offers case management for tenants at risk of eviction. The program also gives assistance for keeping rent increases low and for mediation between landlords and tenants. Still, many people who find themselves evicted do wind up in the shelter system, which Hanratty said is not a good thing.
“It’s tough to find a landlord willing to take you in if you live in the shelter system,” Hanratty said. “It usually takes tremendous persistence and perseverance to get out of it.”
Even though Mount Vernon is one of the lower income places in Westchester County, Hanratty said, residents can pay $1,200 for rent, and if the slightest thing goes wrong, it is hard to bounce back.
“I think it’s an economic thing,” Hanratty said. “I hear on the national level Republicans saying that the stimulus didn’t work, but it provided for some incredible programs. We did some tremendous work and stopped evictions with that money. A lot of programs, like welfare, pay back rent, but this one helped pay it forward.”