CARRIE KAHN, HOST:
New York City is home to the nation's largest homeless population, a problem that has frustrated the efforts of every mayor since the 1970s. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the majority of the homeless are on the streets. In New York, they're in shelters - 58,000 currently. And this is the only major city in America where people have a legal right to shelter. Today, we bring you the story of a homeless single mother and her children trying to find a home of their own. Mirela Iverac from member station WNYC reports.
MIRELA IVERAC, BYLINE: On a warm summer evening, Shakira Crawford watches her two boys play basketball. The oldest is 13-year-old.
JOSHUA CRAWFORD: Joshua.
IVERAC: Skinny with a high-top fade haircut, an aspiring surgeon.
JOSHUA: Because I have steady hands and I like to draw and make a lot of money.
IVERAC: At her quiet and serious 11-year-old.
JORDAN CRAWFORD: Jordan.
IVERAC: Who's mastered some new moves.
JORDAN: Pivoting and one-on-one moves.
IVERAC: As the boys find their place on the court, Crawford moves over to the swings and slides and sprinklers with her 8-year-old girl girl.
JULIA CRAWFORD: Julia.
IVERAC: Whose favorite colors are.
JULIA: Purple and pink and sometimes sky blue.
IVERAC: These are the people at the center of Crawford's life.
SHAKIRA CRAWFORD: So this is my crew. Yeah, I love my crew. I actually love hanging with them.
IVERAC: Hanging out in the park, Crawford's family is happy, but their home life is more complicated.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I told you to get the [expletive] out my (unintelligible).
IVERAC: They live here in a home a shelter in Brooklyn run by a nonprofit group called Women In Need. Most homeless New Yorkers are families with children like Crawford's. She's 39 years old, living in a single 500 square-foot room with a small kitchen area, one bathroom, two bunk beds and three kids. The way the oldest one, Joshua, sees it - well, you can't always get what you want.
JOSHUA: As long as we have a bed, that's it. It's good for now.
IVERAC: Among the city's 650 shelters, this is one of the better ones. But rats and mice have left droppings on bed sheets and holes in Julia's close. Crawford keeps dishes and toothbrushes in the fridge. Six months after they moved in, Crawford got a ticket out of the shelter. It's a rental subsidy called Living In Communities, or LINC, a program Mayor Bill de Blasio created to get people out of shelters quickly.
CRAWFORD: I was like yeah, hooray.
IVERAC: Crawford's LINC voucher is worth $1,500 a month. The city covers $1,100 and Crawford pays the rest. Like a third of homeless New Yorkers, she works. She's a full-time lobby attendant at Candlewood Suites, a midtown hotel. She earns $1,300 a month. With the voucher in hand, she thinks her chances of getting an apartment are great.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes.
CRAWFORD: Hi, how are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm good. Who is this?
CRAWFORD: This is Ms. Crawford for the two-bedroom apartment with the LINC voucher.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, yes, nothing, nothing, I don't have anything yet. I'm so sorry (laughter).
IVERAC: Many landlords in New York won't take LINC. When they look at Crawford's voucher, they see former Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He had a voucher program, too, but he killed it. After the state pulled its share of funding, the landlords suddenly had thousands of tenants who couldn't pay rent. De Blasio says Crawford's voucher will be good for five years, but many landlords say they don't trust them enough to take that chance. Mitchel Posilkin represents the Rent Stabilization Association, the largest group of landlords in the city.
MITCHEL POSILKIN: This particular mayor has not given property owners any reason to have confidence or faith that he understands their concerns.
IVERAC: Crawford is concerned she'll remain stuck in the shelter, a place she never imagined she would end up in. Crawford had a life with the father of her children. But behind the walls of their home in New Jersey, she says she suffered beatings for more than a decade, something she has in common with a quarter of homeless women. Crawford wanted to leave, but says she worried she couldn't take care of the kids on her own. And she says her partner always apologized after he physically abused her.
CRAWFORD: He promised that he wouldn't do it again. He promised that he wouldn't do it again. I fell for a lot of things with him.
IVERAC: But then he got into more trouble
CRAWFORD: Three-something in the morning the police officer called and he was like, Shakira, you know, we have your kids' father here with us.
IVERAC: He got deported to Jamaica in 2010. Crawford's house went into foreclosure, and she wanted her kids to have a father, so she followed her partner to Jamaica where she says the beatings got worse. Crawford's friends bought her plane tickets and she came back to New York last year with her children. With nowhere to go, she ended up in the shelter. Now she's determined to get out.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What do you prefer? So you prefer to stay in the Bronx.
IVERAC: Every broker sounds like he just might be the one to find her a home.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We move in more than a couple people a day sometimes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: But I promise you because every Tuesday we get more apartment from the landlords.
CRAWFORD: So you can get me a two-bedroom apartment.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Sure.
IVERAC: The broker never gets her an apartment, and she goes on with her search.
CRAWFORD: And hopefully, you know, I'll be like, yeah, I will have a key soon to open my own door.
IVERAC: After four months of looking, Crawford hopes she'll catch a break. For NPR News, I'm Mirela Iverac.
KAHN: The Crawford family search for a home continues this evening on All Things Considered. Our stories were produced in partnership with WNYC.
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