Where’s the advantage?

If you’ve ever asked your parents for a little help with rent, or if you’ve ever given your child some money for the rent, you know that receiving help does not make you a bad person. We all need help to get by sometimes. But what happens if you don’t have a support network to help you?

The other day I was riding the subway and a couple came on with their child. They started to make an announcement about how they were homeless and needed help. I must admit that I’ve become quite callous towards homeless people on the subway, but there was something about them that caught my attention.

They said that they were living in an apartment with help from the Advantage program, but since the State was no longer funding that program they would soon have to go back to the homeless shelter. And since shelters don’t allow mixed genders, their family would be split up.

I looked at the woman as her husband announced this and she was crying and holding her toddler’s hand tightly. She was ashamed, but it was also clear that she was scared she was going to lose her family and her sense of normalcy. Before they spoke they looked like any other young family, but any day now they were going to slip through the cracks, and I can’t imagine how you would ever get back up.

The Advantage program helps pay the rent for individuals or families in order to take them out of the homeless shelters and work towards self-sufficiency. Adults under this program need to work a minium of 20 hours a week, and participate in career development  courses or continuing education. It lasts up to 2 years and in the first year the individual must pay at least 30% of the rent, and in the second year 40%. While I was in college my parents paid 100% of my rent, but most people aren’t that lucky. This program provides a head start for people who never received one.

There’s no easy solution for the homeless problem in NYC, and there are a lot of flaws with the Advantage program, but it was a good start. Witnessing the family on the subway going through the fear of returning to a shelter was just another reminder of how much we neglect the people who need help the most. What is going to happen to their child? Imagine the two possible outcomes for a child growing up in a home with his family, or growing up in different shelters and never seeing his father at night. There are currently 15,000 families in the advantage program. What is going to happen to all of them?

Everyone wants their taxes to be lower, but no one seems to see the price we pay for that.


    1. Oh yes I’ve seen some terrible things on the subway, but it’s important to stay sensitive to it and not become numb.


    1. Maybe I didn’t make it clear in the post – the man had a job. Everyone on the advantage program has a job (or is disabled). A large number of people who use soup kitchens and homeless shelters have jobs. The problem is you can’t possibly support a family on minimum wage. That’s why this program is so important: It helps people afford to take continuing education classes so that they can one day have a better paying job and become self-sufficient.


  1. I feel awful for this family and the many others facing the same thing. It should not be happening in a country as wealthy as America. I hope that America will continue to become a more caring society. Thanks for being one of those who cares.

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