With homelessness one of the most pressing issues in the 2021 mayoral race, it’s more important than ever that those on the street have somewhere safe to sleep. Oftentimes, that means a non-profit shelter. Yet many of the private security officers who work at these shelters are paid so little they can barely afford health insurance – and are even in danger of homelessness themselves.
Now the New York City Council and Mayor Bill DeBlasio are moving to change this, committing 40.5 million dollars to ensure that these essential workers are paid fair, livable wages.
“For over 4,000 working families – their lives are going to change, this year,” said Mayor DeBlasio at a press conference this afternoon. A group of working people, each wearing union shirts, stood behind him. “You can’t ask someone to help solve one of the most challenging problems in society, but not give them enough to put food on their tables, or pay their rent, or take care of their families.”
His description was borne out by a number of speakers. Homeless shelters can be rife with violence; yet many security officers are paid minimum wage, barely enough to sustain an individual, let alone a family. “We cannot afford to live in the city we work,” said Shaquille Sheppard, a private shelter security officer who himself grew up in-and-out of shelters. “Private security jobs are poverty jobs.” Kyle Bragg, president of Local 32BJ, a chapter of the Service Employees International Union, substantiated this, saying that, “while helping the City’s most vulnerable, many of these workers struggle to afford things themselves,” and, “may even find themselves homeless.”
According to a recent survey, shelter security workers – over 90% of whom are people of color – are more than four times as likely to be homeless or uninsured than the average New Yorker. At the same time, some 48% of those surveyed said they are inadequately trained. In somewhere as dangerous as a homeless shelter, this can mean the difference between life and death. That these shelters cannot even sustain the people they employ – people whose work is essential to the City – is a cruel and vicious irony and one that the pandemic put into even starker relief. While thousands fled the City to the Hudson Valley and the Hamptons, many of these essential workers had no choice but to mask up, sanitize, and help the City’s most vulnerable – and while getting terribly paid.
DeBlasio, and the City Council, are working hard to amend this injustice. The $40 million designated out of the city budget for shelter security officers will mean wage increases from $15 to $18 an hour, as well as benefits such as family health care. For many of the near-4,000 private shelter officers in the City, this money will mean doctor visits, rent payments, or simply a little more time spent at home; the effects, in short, will be life-changing.
The union members knew it too – as the press conference began, they stood, held up their posters, and chanted their motto: “When we fight, we win.”