The agency that oversees these community-based organizations servicing young people is developing a plan to have extra beds available at hotels.
As of last Friday, three drop-in centers funded by the Department of Youth & Community Development had moved to either remote services via phone calls or offering services, such as meals or housing referrals, at an alternative location, closing their own physical spaces. Other drop-in centers have reduced hours or aren't accepting new clients.
Two shelters with crisis beds—Covenant House and Safe Horizon—were temporarily suspended March 27th—and another organization's transitional housing beds—Core Services—had reduced bed capacity by two at one facility as a way to practice social distancing. Since then, DCYD's Friday update showed they were back online, though one of them, the Covenant House, reduced intake hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.
"You're really crippling the entry into shelters for young people," the Coalition for Homeless Youth's executive director, Jamie Powlovich, told Gothamist.
The update Powlovich compiles for the coalition said intake had been suspended for two other transitional independent housing programs, though it was unclear for how long.
Residential beds for youth from age 16 to 24 are slim. DYCD's update showed 34 beds were available for youth ages 16 to 20 and just one for those 21 to 24. Those numbers fluctuate often. The Coalition for Homeless Youth's latest count from Monday showed zero youth-specific beds for those age 21 to 24, a concern for the coalition, which has emphasized the importance of age-specific shelters.
Powlovich has been inquiring with DYCD on how it will support providers as well as any plans to procure hotel rooms for isolation beds to increase social distancing at shelters—especially if clients start having flu-like symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
"Although we have received some support for providers from the state and other City leadership, we continue to hear from our members that they ... are still not receiving the necessary guidance and support that they are seeking from DYCD," Powlovich wrote March 26th. Other advocates have said the city agency has "responded to the crisis slowly."
In a March 30th response to questions from Powlovich, DYCD said the department is "exploring capacity" with some runaway and homeless youth providers to staff hotel rooms for isolation or work with other human service organizations. Working with the state Office of Children and Family Services to run beds outside of already-approved programs is still a "work in progress." Today, DYCD said it's finalizing planning for so-called "isolation beds"—used to maintain social distancing—in conjunction with the Office of Emergency Management and certain contracted providers.
Powlovich said providers are also looking for specific guidance on how to continue running programs while keeping clients and staff safe. She noted that the only guidance on how to maintain safety came from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which Powlovich found inadequate.
"Providers have been clear from the beginning that's not helpful. Even if DOHMH guidance that's coming out is the best guidance—because they have health experts on their team—you still need to cater to [homeless youth providers]," Powlovich said.
A youth advocate, Maddox Guerilla, said LGBTQ homeless youth face specific challenges. At drop-in centers, some youth may pick up hormones for their gender-transition or other medications. Scaled back services could hinder that.
"Providers are having to deal with these challenging positions that I don't think anybody was prepared or trained to do," said Guerilla, who's a formerly homeless youth, now 23, and living in the Bronx.
"There's so many layers to it. On the daily, it's challenging already for a young person or an LGBTQ person," Guerilla said. "Specifically, if people don't have homes, that makes it so much [more] of a crisis."
Carine Jocelyn, who's non-profit Diaspora Community Services runs about two dozen residential beds for LGBTQIA youth and adolescents with their own children, said a critical question is what to do should her non-profit's clients become sick or symptomatic.
"How many beds are really available in this new COVID time? If we need to isolate our young people and/or get them medical care, how do we best do that?" Jocelyn said. "What does it mean to take a 16- or 17-year-old who's without their parent or their guardian [to a hospital]?"
Jocelyn was expecting hand sanitizers from New York State and was hoping for masks as well. DYCD said providers had started picking up masks this week after criticism it hadn't done so previously.
Additionally, as teenagers age out of the foster care system, Jocelyn is thinking ahead for newly needed beds. As of Monday, her residential program had zero available, according to the coalition's update.
“And I think that, overall, we are obviously concerned about 16-17-year-olds, but we know the reality of it also is for youth people aging out of foster care, having more beds for 21-24 year olds is important," Jocelyn said.
None of the youth at her non-profit's residences or staff had flu-like symptoms or confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, but she said, "The challenge is still the same. We need our staff to show up. We need the resources to be able to do that."