Monday, June 14, 2004

NCM > New York City Muslim Families Face Increased Risk of Homelessness

NCM > New York City Muslim Families Face Increased Risk of Homelessness

New York City Muslim Families Face Increased Risk of Homelessness
Pakistan Link, News Analysis,
Dr. Shahid Sheikh, Jun 14, 2004

NEW YORK -- Muslim families in New York City face unique problems in addition to those driving up homelessness citywide and beyond.

About 350,000 to 500,000 Muslims live in New York City. They are extremely diverse, representing more than 50 distinct national, racial, cultural, ethnic backgrounds, and sects. Nonetheless, they can be divided into three major communities: the South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Afghani), the Arab, and the African-American.

As part of the national trend, South Asian and Arab Muslims in New York City have suffered the most devastating 9/11 backlash.

Before Sept.11, 2001, some 120,000 Pakistanis were concentrated in two sections of Brooklyn. Their departure began after 9/11. Between 40 and 50 percent of all Pakistanis living here have been detained or deported or have left on their own. In silence and anonymity, the community has suffered humiliating treatment and havoc at the hands of U.S. law enforcement authorities. Their mass exodus has impacted thousands of the families economically and socially.

In the absence of hard statistics about the community, Muslim community leaders, social workers, and activists point out that domestic violence, the divorce rate, and the high school dropout rate have accelerated in the community; thousands of children have become fatherless. A great many have been separated from their families and have been placed in non-Muslim foster care homes; and the family instability has led to low academic achievements among the young children.

The economic fallout due to increased detainments and deportations, matched with New York’s struggling economy, is widely apparent. Muslim-owned stores have closed, or are on the brink; thousands of men have lost their jobs due to their prolonged interrogations and subsequent detentions; and unemployment in the Muslim community is rampant.

As a result, thousands of broken Muslim families are left without a breadwinner. Many of the affected women do not speak English, have no job skills and are forced to provide for their households. This has pushed thousands of families toward destitution or homelessness. A vast majority of these families has no friends or economic resources to support them for a prolonged period.

Many formerly-middle-class families feel embarrassed to seek assistance from local charities and government agencies. In addition, they are afraid of the American government, thinking that seeking its assistance may lead to further scrutiny, harassment, and persecution. The situation is even worse for undocumented individuals who fear that government is out to get them, and consequently, have gone underground. They are afraid to share their stories for fear of being reported to the authorities.

Against this backdrop, American Muslim women face additional unique problems:

-- In many cases, women who have converted to Islam face complete rejection from their non-Muslim families.
-- Single and older women are unable to pay their rent and living expenses.
-- A small percentage of women and children who have been brought in the United States from overseas have been abandoned.

Once Muslim families get the courage to seek financial help, there is not much available. Contributions to many Muslim charities have dwindled over the last three years due to the government’s ongoing nationwide witch-hunt and their humanitarian work has been curtailed significantly. “Sometimes we can pay the rent,” said Adem Carroll of ICNA, an international Muslim charity. “Sometimes we can give just enough to keep them in a state of misery, yet not address the underlying causes to get them out of their miserable condition.”

Homeless Muslim Families and New York City Shelters

The options most homeless Muslim individuals and families in New York City face can be disastrous to not only their faith, but also to their physical and emotional health.

While serving the destitute, most public New York City shelters are jam-packed depositories of social ills. The harsh, inhospitable living conditions, with a lack of privacy for women and children, are not conducive to families in transition. And shelters only provide a place to stay at night.

A vast majority of shelter counselors do not understand the particular cultural and religious needs of Muslim women and children. Muslims are forced to eat non-halal food (food not sanctioned by Islamic law) and cannot find a distraction-free clean environment to offer their daily prayers.

Some shelters even lean hard on Muslim families to attend their daily Bible classes. “A Muslim woman was told that she would go to hell because she did not believe in Jesus. Some of the staff could not understand that there were foods she did not want to eat and clothes that she did not want to wear,” a social worker informed a gathering of Muslim community leaders, discussing the plight of Muslim families in the secular and Christian-run shelters.

Going to a non-Muslim shelter can even result in social workers taking children away if they think that it is better for them to be in a more stable environment, which often ends up being a non-Muslim home. In some extreme cases, many women leave Islam because they feel that the Muslim community has failed to live up to the Islamic promise of protection, brotherhood and sisterhood. Many former Muslim shelter resident women say that they needed emotional and religious support in addition to financial aid when confronted with desperate circumstances.

Muslim Women’s Help Network

Recognizing the needs of homeless Muslim single women in New York City, Muslim Women’s Help Network (MWHN) was established in 1998.

In a given year, the MWHN receives an average of 400 to 500 requests for shelter. Typically, the shelter operates at 100 percent capacity, often with a long waiting list. Due to an extreme scarcity of funds and resources, however, the shelter currently provides temporary living to only 8 to 9 homeless women who stay anywhere from 3 to 6 months.


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