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  • A Shelter Is Not a Home . . . Or Is It? Lessons from Family Homelessness in New York City
  • Susan P. Lehmann (bio)
A Shelter Is Not a Home... Or Is It? Lessons from Family Homelessness in New York City, by Ralph da Costa Nunez . New York: White Tiger Press, 2004. 139 pp.

This short book provides a very general history of homelessness in the United States since the nineteenth century and a much more detailed history of homelessness in New York City, with a focus on the last 30 years. In addition to the history, the book [End Page 706] supplies facts and figures about who is homeless in New York today in terms of such characteristics as age, gender, education, and personal history and about the consequences of homelessness for children. It concludes with a description of and rationale for recently developed Tier II shelters, long-term facilities where homeless families receive social services, health care, day care, and education (through such programs as after-school groups and GED classes) as well as shelter.

The book's author, Ralph da Costa Nunez, PhD, is President and CEO of Homes for the Homeless and the closely related research organization, the Institute for Children and Poverty, as well as being an adjunct faculty member in Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is the author of several academic texts and papers, including The New Poverty: A Generation of Homeless Families and Hopes, Dreams and Promise: The Future of Homeless Children in America. He has also written three children's books (Our Wish, Cooper's Tale, and Saily's Journey) that explore the challenges that face homeless children. His commitment to overcoming and knowledge about the expanding problem of homelessness, especially in New York, are obvious.

Homes for the Homeless (HFH) was founded in 1986 by businessman Leonard N. Stern (who made his fortune developing the Hartz Mountain pet supply business begun by his father and later in extensive real estate development in the New York metropolitan area) in collaboration with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the City of New York. Operating in close conjunction with the Institute on Children and Poverty, a research organization, HFH is the nation's largest provider of residential, educational, and employment training centers, serving over 540 homeless families and over 1,100 homeless children each day at four separate sites across New York City. Dubbed American Family Inns, these sites host a network of on-site education, employment, and family support services that address the multiple causes of homelessness. The book under review serves as a convincing rationale for this Tier II shelter approach to the problem of homelessness, at least in so far as it concerns families with children.

The strengths of this book lie in the documentation of the changing (and growing) presence of the homeless in New York and, in far less detail, in the country as a whole; the explication of changing public policy concerning homelessness; and the apparently well-grounded message of hope growing out of the success Tier II shelters are having in stemming the tide of homelessness. The book is easy to read, if sometimes dry and narrowly focused on New York City politics, and includes a set of evocative 'before' photographs of homeless children, old welfare hotels and emergency, overnight shelters followed by a series of 'after' shots of Tier II shelters and their residents. Marred somewhat by editorial errors, the book should nevertheless prove to be a useful roadmap to what works and what does not work in addressing the problems of homeless families, of equal value to policy makers and to social service providers. Each of the nine chapters includes a moderately extensive list of references and facts cited in the text are carefully linked to these sources.

Susan P. Lehmann

Susan P. Lehmann, MSN, RN, is an Instructor (Clinical) at The University of Iowa College of Nursing and also directs the Nursing Outreach Program which provides nurse case management for homeless and underserved persons in Iowa City, Iowa.



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