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Disheartened Homeless Families Wait For Bed Assignments Night After Night

December 17, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Martha Rivas knows it’s going to be a sad Christmas. She has moved from one shelter or welfare hotel to another with her seven-month-old son, Roberto, and $130 she saved to buy presents, clothes and diapers was stolen from the hotel where she slept this past weekend.

″I was threatened there, robbed and then kicked out,″ said the 22-year- old Miss Rivas. ″Now I have nothing. I’ve been moving from shelter to hotel for four months; I don’t know where I’ll end up tonight.″

Miss Rivas and her son were one of a record 3,960 homeless families the city housed in welfare hotels, shelters and family centers Sunday night.

On Monday night, Miss Rivas sat in an Emergency Assistance Unit in lower Manhattan waiting to be assigned shelter for the night.

In the same office, one woman sat crying as her small daughter scribbled with a pink crayon in a library book. Babies with wet diapers cried. People ate turkey and ham sandwiches provided by the city. Others anxiously kept watchful eyes on their scant belongings, stuffed into worn suitcases and garbage bags.

Dozens of people at the emergency unit complained about waiting in long lines at welfare offices, not eating for days, sleeping on subways and waiting, always waiting for a place to call their own so they could pick up the pieces of their lives.

Many hoped that this night, they’d get something more permanent than just temporary shelter to tide them over for another night. But by 8 p.m. most of them were ready to take anything as long as they didn’t have to spend the night sleeping there.

All seemed unaware of a controversy that came to light last week when the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, made public records showing that hundreds of families with children had been forced to spend nights in waiting rooms of the city’s four Emergency Assistance Units - some because they refused the space offered to them, but most because there was no room in shelters or welfare hotels.

Since the coalition’s complaints and action by the city, there have been fewer people sleeping in welfare offices, but 27 families slept on chairs and cots there over the weekend. The city had shelters and hotel rooms available, but the families refused them, according to Tony Vargas, a spokesman for the Human Resources Administration.

″I ain’t going to no shelter; I’ll sleep here on a chair,″ said Donna Marshall, 25, who was told all they had for her and her 8-year-old daughter Patrice were beds in a shelter.

″They put 100 beds in one big room and there’s diseases going around in those shelters. I’m not taking my child there,″ said Miss Marshall, who had been living with friends and relatives for the last year.

Donna McDermott, age 23 and 51/2 months pregnant, sat rubbing her belly under a blue Adidas T-shirt. ″This baby isn’t being good to me tonight,″ she said. Nearby, her 1-year-old daughter slept behind the metal bars of a crib, with a bad case of pinkeye.

″I spent last night in the hospital emergency room with her,″ Miss McDermott said.″I’m dead tired; I haven’t slept in days.

″I have two boys in foster care and I can’t get them back until I get an apartment. I’ve been putting in application after application and all I hear about are waiting lists.″

At 9 p.m., Miss McDermott was assigned to a shelter. She gathered up her belongings, zipped her sleepy daughter into a red snowsuit, took her $9 food allowance and headed out into the cold.

Miss Rivas bundled her son into his stroller and went to spend the night in another shelter, uncertain what today would bring.

″I don’t understand it; they can help people all over the world, but when it comes to their own backyard it’s hopeless,″ said Miss Marshall, watching others around her leave the office for their allotted housing.

She just sat and waited.

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