Data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services shows that the Big Apple could see a significant spike in homelessness as shelter space remains in short supply.
The department’s latest daily shelter census shows that more than 72,000 people are using New York City’s shelters as of March 30. That total represents an overall increase of more than 60% increase year-over-year. It comes as the city’s Covid-era restrictions on shelter capacity end.
Families with children are also experiencing homelessness at greater rates in New York City. As of March 30, there were nearly 45,000 families with children in the city’s shelter system, according to DHS data, representing a more than 70% climb year-over-year. This suggests that more low-income earners are at-risk of experiencing homelessness as rents and home prices continue to climb.
Dave Giffen is the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, a homeless service organization in New York City. In early March, Giffen said that city and state lawmakers must work together to prioritize building new shelter units for people experiencing homelessness.
“There is no commitment to accelerate the creation of needed units or to dedicate funding for more badly needed housing,” Giffen said in a press release, referring to a plan Mayor Eric Adams put forth to increase mental health services in New York City.
New York Shelters Face More Demand Than Ever
New York’s shelter system has come under increasing scrutiny since the pandemic began as it struggled to handle the steep increase in demand.
In 2022, the Coalition for the Homeless released a report that said the system needed to be redesigned because it does not provide adequate access to restrooms, psychiatric services, and supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Advocates have also criticized the Department of Homeless Services for not keeping accurate data about the number of people that need their services. In July 2022, New York revised its census methodology and now requires DHS to publish data about the total number of people who use their shelters, not just the number of people who report being unhoused.
“More complete reporting helps all of us inside and outside government, as well as the media, the public, and academia, to understand the scope and demographics of homelessness in New York City, and to bring our advocacy recommendations and policy solutions to levels that match these metrics,” Shelly Notz, the deputy executive director of policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, told Invisible People at the time.
Homeless Services Lag Behind Despite Additional Funding
Mayor Adams has increased funding for homeless services, including the construction of safe haven beds, drop-in centers, and other shelter units. Adams’ administration announced in 2022 that they would spend more than $171 million to expand shelter space.
Even so, some homeless New Yorkers are still getting turned away from shelters. The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society, a national nonprofit, said in September 2022 that more than 60 New Yorkers were denied shelter placements. That came at a time when the city was seeing a large influx of migrants.
“It is now clear that this City’s Administration simply does not have a handle on the city’s sprawling homelessness crisis and the serious capacity issues in the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) shelters,” the nonprofits said in a joint statement.
Some people experiencing homelessness in New York say they avoid the city’s shelter system at all costs because it’s dangerous and dirty. A man named Richard told Invisible People about a time he was placed in housing with an individual suffering from a mental illness who collected his urine in bottles and stored them around the house.
“I just walked away,” Richard said. “After two years of work with this housing program, I got nothing in return. So I walked out.”
Other unhoused New Yorkers told Gothamist in December 2022 that they avoid the shelter system because of safety and security concerns. One individual named Christopher Bray told the publications that people could “pop your locker” and steal people’s belongings. Another person named James Johns said he felt disrespected by the food quality.
New York’s Expensive Housing Is Putting Low-Income Earners at Risk
New York’s shelter system could soon see a significant increase in demand because of the city’s housing market. According to Redfin, the city’s median home price was $760,000 in February. That total is up more than 4.8% since March 2020.
Meanwhile, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is more than $2,000 per month, according to ApartmentList.com. This means that families need to earn approximately $6,700 per month, or $80,000 per year, to avoid paying more than the recommended 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
As Gregg Colburn argues in his book “Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” rising rents and home prices raise the risk that families in the lowest-income bracket may be forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford them.
How You Can Help
The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing. It also showed that aid programs work when government provides agencies and service organizations with sufficient funds and clear guidance on spending aid dollars.
Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.