“The city’s unwillingness to extend the voucher program to its vulnerable, undocumented immigrants is not only a costly mistake, but down right inhumane. We need the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams to open up the CityFHEPS program for all of us.”
As I saw news stories of hundred of undocumented folks being sent to New York from out of state, I could only imagine how our broken shelter system would explode. I saw myself in these folks, and know firsthand the terrifying and undignified conditions in our city’s shelters after living in them for years.
Rather than finding care, these asylum seekers will join me and thousands of New Yorkers already stuck in a system that devalues their humanity, while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. To make things worse, CityFHEPs, the largest rental subsidy program to get New Yorkers out of shelters, is not even available to undocumented folks.
When I arrived in the United States in 1986, I did not qualify for citizenship under the Immigration Reform and Control Act that passed that year. In 2012, when DACA opened a pathway for citizenship for people who immigrated before they were 16, I was still ineligible because I entered the U.S. when I was just 17. I worked for over 30 years, but as I grew older my health declined, and I lost my job. My savings dried up, and I was eventually evicted. Despite the thousands of dollars I paid in taxes over the years, the only thing the city offered me was temporary shelter.
Once you enter the shelter system in New York City, the problems only get worse. Not having the stability and security of a home worsened every health problem I had. The mattresses are not meant for long term use; myself and many others have developed joint problems and I use a cane now for the first time in my life. I’m not able to cook healthy meals for myself and I’m forced to eat processed food that’s very high in sodium and sugar. My doctors tell me I am pre-diabetic now, and I have severe sleep apnea which has led to multiple heart attacks. It’s not just my physical health—my mental health has deteriorated after enduring many traumas, including multiple assaults.
My health problems became life threatening after entering this system, and people must understand my story is not uncommon. I fear for the health and well being of the folks who are now arriving. But what’s most frustrating is the solution to get us into permanent housing is right in front of our elected officials.
For the first time, our city’s housing voucher program—CityFHEPS—is paying the market rate, finally giving people in shelters access to thousands of apartments. While it’s not a perfect system, it makes absolutely no sense that the program does not extend to undocumented folks who are in crisis. All I see is another way to discriminate against low-income, Black, and Latino people looking for new beginnings, just like I was.
New York City is paying thousands of dollars a month to shelter providers, but will not invest one dollar toward ending our homelessness crisis permanently. Last year, the state gave the Human Resource Administration $130 million for rental subsidies—money that should be used to open the CityFHEPs program to house undocumented folks and close this clear gap in our social services. If New York City continues on this path, our homelessness crisis will become too great to overcome.
Undocumented folks like me are getting older and sicker, and may never be able to work again. I will always wonder if I would have been able to get back into the workforce if given housing instead of shelter. If I got the care I needed and my health hadn’t deteriorated in the shelters, my life would look much different today.
The city’s unwillingness to extend the voucher program to its vulnerable, undocumented immigrants is not only a costly mistake, but down right inhumane. We need the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams to open up the CityFHEPS program for all of us. The longer they wait, the more we suffer.
Josephine Bosson is a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Homelessness Union and has lived in the New York City Shelter System since 2019.