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New York Introduces Work For Shelter

First it was work-for-the-dole now it's work-for-shelter. New York City is about to require all who are homeless in the coming winter, to work in exchange for shelter - or have their children placed in foster care. John Howard reports.

Nica Person, a 26 year-year-old mother of three who lives in a homeless shelter, can't believe what she's hearing from New York policy makers.

"There are parents who have four kids, they can't afford day care to go to work. How will we manage?" she asked.

A storm of angry reaction greeted Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani's announcement Tuesday that the city will seek to extend its welfare policy to 4,600 families in the shelter system. Eventually, 7,000 single adults in homeless shelters will also be required to work for shelter.

New York is believed to be the only major US city to now impose a work-for-shelter requirement. The city, like New Zealand, already requires welfare recipients to work to get their benefits.

The mayor's new plan stunned advocates for the homeless who described it as a throwback to the days of the Charles Dickens novels.

"This could literally put hundreds, if not thousands of people on the streets," said Patrick Markee, a policy advisor for New York City's Coalition for the Homeless.

Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Centre on Homeless and Poverty in Washington DC, described the policy as unique in the nation and horribly misguided.

Already, many homeless parents clean parks or do other menial jobs in exchange for welfare benefits while their children are in shelter day care centres. However, thousands of families are on waiting lists for child care.

It remains unclear what work will be required of homeless people with physical or mental disabilities though, again like New Zealand, city policy requires those seeking exemption from work requirements to undergo medical exams every few months.

One homeless person said, "If Christian's are right and Jesus is about to return for the Millennium tell Mary and Joseph not to come to New York - the manger might not be available."

And don't forget to tell our politicians of the New York plan, but only after you've bought your shares in the cardboard-box making business. Because if we're true to form and continue to follow America, pretty soon a lot of New Zealanders might also be needing one.


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