As someone who works at a walk-in center that has seen an increase in customers since the implementation of the Subway Safety Plan, I was pleased to see that Mayor Adams’ budget included funding for additional Safe Haven and stabilization beds. But I was deeply disturbed to learn that he did not include a cost of living (COLA) adjustment for workers like me, who work long hours for very little pay to provide much-needed services at programs targeting out-of-home New Yorkers.
I work for Urban Pathways, a non-profit organization that provides homeless services and supportive housing. We have remained open for the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made our already difficult jobs much more difficult. As a result of the pandemic, our customers are facing more barriers than ever – from having to wait for months to make appointments to obtain the necessary paperwork, while constantly being confronted with social stigmas.
As a result, coupled with an ongoing labor shortage, my colleagues and I are doing twice as much work as before to make sure our clients get what they need to get housing.
The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on our personal finances and inflation is getting worse. Every month I face difficult choices. Do I pay my ever increasing electricity bill or do I do my shopping? I was recently forced to leave my apartment and my neighborhood because of an astronomical rent increase of $1,000 a month.
I have constant stress and worry when I go home after leaving a stressful job where I worry about my clients. Many of my colleagues are in similar situations, and they have children, parents, and grandparents who depend on them financially. How can they support their families with our stagnating low salaries?
Unsurprisingly, approximately 24% of our organization’s job openings are open—significantly higher than the estimated 11% average job opening rate among human services nonprofits as of March 2021—putting even more pressure on those of us who remain.
I love the work I do, and I’ve always had a passion for giving others a lifeline. There is nothing more rewarding than helping those who have lost their way to resume the life they want to lead. I know this work is as important as ever and that drives me to keep going. But without a pay rise to offset the increased cost of living, even those who love this job won’t be able to afford to keep doing it.
Human services jobs are the second lowest paid of all industries in New York City, ranking just slightly higher than restaurants when it comes to compensation. Yet there are major differences within our ranks. For example, I earn about $20,000 less per year than public sector employees. Write big, human resources earn about 71% of what government employees are paid in proportional roles, and 82% of what private sector employees earn.
Our work promotes justice, but the system perpetuates inequality. The majority of human service workers are women (66%) and people of color (68%). This is not just a matter of fairness; it’s about gender equality and racial equality.
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My economic uncertainty is a direct result of government budget decisions. It is not possible for Urban Pathways to fill the gap with the low contract rates they are getting.
We deserve better. We need better wages, comparable pay and benefits to our government counterparts, and annual cost of living adjustments that we can rely on. We are considered essential workers, but our own essential needs are ignored. Getting more pay would help me and my colleagues with our financial challenges and show that the city really values our work and doesn’t call us ‘essential’ in difficult times.
State legislators recently passed a budget that gives workers who do the exact same job as me a 5.4% COLA. The city has to at least match that, or colleagues who work for the same organization and do the same job will take home different salaries.
This disparity will make it more difficult to fill vacancies and hire additional workers to staff the $171 million in new programs proposed by the mayor. That includes 1,400 beds in smaller facilities that serve as alternatives to conventional homeless shelters, as well as three drop-in centers where individuals can receive a hot meal, shower, wash their clothes and, if they wish, meet with case managers and counselors. †
These are investments worth making, but who is going to work in the new walk-in centers and safe havens if city contracts don’t pay enough to hire workers for the programs they already have?
I sincerely hope that Adams and the City Council will join us and begin the process of simply getting people in human care to pay so that we can continue to do the work we love and help our clients get the housing they want. need.
Henry is a housing specialist at Urban Pathways, which provides homeless services, supportive housing and other programs to New Yorkers in need.