Despite Mayor Adams’ high-profile efforts to reduce the number of New Yorkers living on the streets, the city is seeing a rise in street homelessness.
The number of people sleeping on the street is up in 2023, according to an annual one-night survey released at the start of the Fourth of July weekend.
The annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate, or HOPE survey, is conducted by the Social Services Department every year in January. This year, the survey counted 4,042 people sleeping on the city’s streets, in parks, on the subways, on benches and under highway overpasses — about a 17% increase over 2022.
The total is 603 more people than last year’s 3,439 and 1,666 more than in 2021, but closer to the 3,857 people who slept unsheltered in 2020.
The Social Services Department pinned the rise to the influx of migrants to the city and the end of pandemic-related programs like the federally funded use of hotels as homeless shelters, the overnight closure of the subways and the mild weather this past winter.
“Over this past year, our agency has responded to a massive humanitarian crisis while ensuring that we are effectively delivering on our mission to address homelessness in New York City,” Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park said.
“Our shelter census nearly doubled over an incredibly short span and New Yorkers are still recovering from the devastating impact of the pandemic, but thanks to our intensified outreach efforts, bold solutions and vital investments in specialized beds, NYC continues to have one of the lowest rates of unsheltered homelessness of any other major U.S. city.”
During 2021 and 2022, no volunteers conducted the outreach. Instead, the count relied on outreach staff and city workers. Community volunteers were brought back for the 2023 count.
Because of the right-to-shelter law, under which the city is legally obligated to provide a bed to anyone who needs one, New York City has a rate of about 95% of homeless people sleeping in shelters or other indoor locations.
Adams has challenged the right-to-shelter law in court, asking a judge to suspend pieces of the decades-old mandate because of the record migrant-driven surge to the city’s homeless shelters.
The new street homelessness numbers are the latest hit to some of the Adams administration’s high-profile initiatives geared toward getting homeless people off the streets and subways.
Last week, a city comptroller audit said Adams’ controversial homeless encampment sweeps “completely failed,” with just three homeless people getting permanent housing. Of 2,308 removed from the streets, just 90 of them stayed in a homeless shelter for more than a day, city Comptroller Brad Lander said in the audit.
Another program, the Subway Safety Plan, deploys outreach workers to trains and buses with the goal of ending the practice of people using the transit system for shelter.
According to the Social Services Department, outreach workers on the subway have connected 5,000 people in the subway system to beds and other services.
“What we do know is that far too many New Yorkers must resort to sleeping on the streets and in transit facilities because they do not have access to better options,” Dave Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement. “If Mayor Adams truly wants to help homeless New Yorkers, he would create more affordable housing, work with the governor to expand access to voluntary psychiatric care, and offer greater access to safe shelters with private rooms in order to tackle this crisis head-on.”
Homeless people resort to sleeping unsheltered for a number of reasons, including violence and unrest in shelters. Paths out of the shelter system are also difficult, with a long, delayed process ahead of anyone looking to obtain a housing voucher or affordable housing.