A Look at Homelessness in NYC as of early 2020

A Look at Homelessness in NYC as of early 2020

As with so many other cities in this country and across the world, Homelessness in NYC, has been a problem for many decades. One mayor after another would try to tackle this social issue and yet it would continue unsolved.

Yours truly can remember the late 1980s’ as it existed at the Grand Central hub. I’d exit the Graybar Building into terminal and, like clockwork, I’d find the homeless commandeering the phone booths within the terminal every day at the onset of rush hour. Then there were the days when you’d walk along within Penn Station and there they’d be lined up against the walls on the ground.

Just the other day, in the midst of New York City’s experience with the COVID-19 crisis, I walked through the streets around Penn Station. We needed a bathroom and headed down below only to find them congregating outside, inside, along the stairs and at locations all around. I counted maybe 20 or so vagrants within a one block radius.

This page takes a quick look at the problem. With additions to be made in days and weeks ahead.


NYC’s Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Homeless Crisis

During the week prior to the date of this writing, both the Mayor and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo would take steps towards further protecting our first responders, and in turn looking out for our homeless in the midst of the COVID-19 Crisis.

Known for being a champion of affordable housing and the homeless, Mr. de Blasio would state the following during his 2020 State of the City Address:

“For folks who unfortunately are not even able to conceive of a place to live, folks who are homeless on our streets, we have to commit ourselves to the ‘Journey Home’ plan that I announced in December and I want to be clear, this is way out on a limb, but it’s what we have to do. We have to end homelessness as we know it in New York City.”

“And we truly believe for the first time ever because of ‘HOME-STAT’, because of an initiative that’s reaching people like never before that we can end this horrible phenomenon of a person who’s on the streets for one year, two years, five years. We can end that once and for all. Are you all ready to be a part of that? Because we can do it.”


Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) and the Definition of Homelessness

Put forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the AHAR. The first one, dated February 2007, outlined the following within its Foreword:

This first-of-its-kind study provides important baseline data on homelessness and will allow HUD and local communities to get a more complete understanding about how many persons are homeless, what their needs are, and how we can meet their needs so they no longer have to live in shelters and on the streets.

That first report would have taken several years to be created. Thereafter, there would be a report every year.

The 104 page 2019 AHAR, dated January 2020 has an extraordinary, would reveal (amongst many statistics) the following:

To be considered for the following statistics, ‘Homeless’ means one can be in a sheltered location (emergency shelters or transitional housing programs) as well as in an unsheltered locations such as on the street, in an abandoned building, or in other places not suitable for human habitation.

On a single night in January 2019

  • Almost 568,000 people were homeless on a single night, with nearly two thirds (63%) found in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs.
  • The number of people experiencing homelessness nationwide increased by nearly three percent between 2018 and 2019, or 14,885 more people.
  • Nearly half of all people experiencing homelessness in the country were in three states: California (27% or 151,278 people); New York (16% or 92,091 people); and Florida (5% or 28,328 people).
  • California and New York had the largest numbers of people experiencing homelessness and the highest rates of homelessness, at 38 and 46 people per 10,000.
  • Nearly one-quarter of all people experiencing homelessness in the United States (24%) did so in either New York City (78,604 people) or Los Angeles (56,257 people). A majority of New York City’s homeless population were people in families with children, while a large majority of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles were individuals (or people in households without children).


Coalition for the Homeless: Governor and Mayor to Blame

as New York Enters Fifth Decade of Homelessness Crisis.

The Coalition for the Homeless’ 53 page 2020 State of the Homeless Report would begin with its Executive Summary:

Modern mass homelessness in New York is now entering its fifth decade. New York’s catastrophic affordable housing crisis continues to fuel record homelessness throughout the city and state, devastating the lives of tens of thousands of men, women, and children. The number of single adults sleeping each night in New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters increased by a staggering 143 percent, from 7,700 in December 2009 to 18,700 in December 2019. While the number of families sleeping each night in DHS shelters has levelled off in the past three years, that figure remains stubbornly high: In December 2019, 14,792 families slept in shelters each night, a 7-percent decline from the all-time high of 15,899 in November 2016, but a 46-percent increase compared with December 2009. Shockingly, 1 in every 100 babies born in New York City last year was brought “home” from the hospital to a shelter.

Further along in the report would be the following:

Even as tens of thousands of New Yorkers struggle to avoid or overcome homelessness every day, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo seem content with minimalist, symbolic, and too-often harmful actions made under the pretense of attempting to manage the problem, rather than taking the substantive steps needed to solve it by fully embracing proven housing solutions on a scale commensurate with the enormity of the crisis.

Their 2019 report would be titled, THE TALE OF TWO HOUSING MARKETS: How de Blasio’s Housing Plan Fuels Homelessness

As record homelessness persists on New York City’s streets and in its shelter system, it is critical to ask: Why does the homelessness crisis remain unabated after Mayor de Blasio has had nearly six years to implement his much-touted “progressive” policy blueprint? The answer is unfortunately simple: The Mayor’s signature housing plan exacerbates the city’s bifurcated housing market by creating a glut of high-rent units instead of investing precious resources in the production of desperately needed extremely low-rent apartments. Equally lamentable is the plan’s inadequate investment in new apartments to be built specifically for the nearly 61,000 New Yorkers who sleep in shelters every night: Only 6,000 are planned through 2026.

This stark disconnect between Mayor de Blasio’s ineffectual affordable housing plan and the reality of record homelessness explains why, well into his second term, his approach is failing to reduce mass homelessness in New York City. The plan, which is cavalierly defended by the Mayor whenever it is questioned, is the object of widespread criticism for offering too little too late for a problem that will undoubtedly define his mayoralty.


Right to Shelter Mandate – Historically Speaking

Late 1930s:

Section 1 of ARTICLE XVII of the Constitution of the State of New York

[Public relief and care]
Section 1.
The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine. (New. Adopted by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)

1979 – 1983: Callahan Consent Decree – Legal Right to Shelter for the Homeless

Callahan v. Carey class action suit brought on by Coalition for the Homeless with Robert Callahan as the lead plaintiff against the City and State of New York (Governor Hugh Carey & Mayor Ed Koch). The decision in favor of the plaintiffs would result in the Callahan Consent Decree: Establishing a Legal Right to Shelter for Homeless Individuals in New York City.

1993: Department of Homeless Services (DHS)

Dept. of Homeless Services (DHS) comes into its own existence, in 1993, out of the Human Resources Administration (HRA) during the Mayor David Dinkins administration; with the aim to more extensively alter NYC’s homeless policies.

Following are city agencies and organizations addressing Homelessness Problem in NYC

The following two, Home-State and Journey Home were referenced by Mayor de Blasio during his 2020 State of the City Address, and numerous times since.

Recently, the Mayor would state the following (May 7) in response to a question about homeless advocates pressing the city to provide a hotel room to every homeless person in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic:

“… when we announced HOME-STAT and how revolutionary it would be to put a huge amount of outreach workers on the task of bringing in homeless folks off the street and just investing whatever it took to gain the trust of homeless folks and disrupt the negative patterns of their lives and give them a better way. And over the last three years, that strategy has been proven and proven improving again, which led to our Journey Home strategy announced in December, to end permanent street homelessness. This new approach is striking to me because it is creating the kind of positive disruption that’s causing homeless folks to make that decision to come in.”

The mayor would continue by explaining how this system works in the longer term. Saying that, simply putting any of these folks in a hotel room would not be enough of an effort towards helping such individuals. Helping them to get out of whatever situation got them on the streets permanently.


Administered by the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS)

Description found on their official page:

HOME-STAT partners existing homeless response and prevention programs with new innovations designed to better identify, engage, and transition homeless New Yorkers to appropriate services and, ultimately, permanent housing.

What should I do if I see an individual or a group of individuals that appear to be street homeless?

For the most immediate response, New Yorkers who see individuals they believe to be homeless and in need should contact 3-1-1 via phone or mobile app and request outreach assistance. You should call 911 if the individual appears to pose an immediate risk to themselves or others or there is criminal activity.

Journey Home

An Action Plan to End Long-Term Street Homelessness

The following words from the Mayor, as featured within the Journey Home Street Homelessness Action Plan, might help encapsulate that which it aims to accomplish:

The Journey Home will bring together resources and people on a scale never seen before—working in common cause to give every person on our streets the support, housing, and care they need.

This will not be easy, and I call on every New Yorker to help. We need family and friends of those on our streets to be trusted partners. We need help identifying locations for new Safe Havens and homeless housing. We need those traveling our streets, subways, and parks not to walk by a fellow New Yorker who is struggling—but to contact our outreach team and be part of the solution.

This plan is about changing the culture of our city. It’s about rising to a moral challenge we all must meet. It’s about recognizing the human dignity of our fellow New Yorkers, and acting for lasting change.


Homebase will help you develop a personalized plan to overcome an immediate housing crisis and achieve housing stability. You may be eligible for Homebase services if you:

  • Are at imminent risk of entering the New York City shelter system
  • Are low-income
  • Want to remain stably housed in your community

Other Sources

Coalition for the Homeless

“”For more than 35 years, the Coalition for the Homeless has developed and implemented humane, cost-effective strategies to end mass homelessness in New York City. Our model programs represent solutions that can dramatically reduce the homeless population and prevent homelessness among those most at risk.””

Homeless Shelter Directory

Featuring a listing of Homeless Shelters to be found within New York and beyond.

The Bowery Mission

“”The Bowery Mission has served homeless and hungry New Yorkers since the 1870s, when its neighborhood came to define the term “skid row.”  Our children’s programs, called Mont Lawn City Camp & Mont Lawn Summer Camp, serve at-risk youth and began in 1894 by giving the children of recent immigrants the chance to escape the tenements in the summer.””

Care for the Homeless

“”For 35+ years, we have brought essential medical, mental, and behavioral health care to people experiencing homelessness in New York City.””

Homeless Services United

“”Homeless Services United (HSU) is a coalition of nearly sixty non-profit agencies serving homeless adults and families in New York City.””


Worthy Visits and Reads

History of Poverty & Homelessness in NYC

The Homeless: Judicial Intervention On Behalf Of A Politically Powerless Group / Fordham Urban Law Journal

Callahan v. Carey, No. 79-42582 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County, Cot. 18, 1979) / ESCR-Net – International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

“Shelter is Only a First Step”: Housing the Homeless in 1980s New York City / Oxford Academic : Journal of Social History

Mayor La Guardia’s Homeless Solution – Arrest Them! / Stuff Nobody Cares About