Homeless New Yorkers Stay in the Streets and Out of Shelters

Homeless man with shopping cart in New York City. || Photo credit to Tona Leggio

Homeless man with shopping cart in New York City. || Photo credit to Tona Leggio


New York City may have improperly allocated its funds for the Department of Homeless Services for years, creating a shelter system that some would now rather sleep on the streets than enter.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, from 2017 to 2018, the rate of homelessness increased 2.7 percent. In their 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the department found that in one night 552,830 people experienced homelessness across the country. And New York City accounts for over 14 percent of this statistic.

According to The Coalition for the Homeless, in recent years New York City has had its highest homelessness levels since the Great Depression. In March of 2019, there were approximately 63,029 people sleeping in the shelter system. And approximately 133,284 homeless men, women and children slept in the shelter system throughout the course of 2018 fiscal year.

New York City homelessness problem is on the rise, and it only seems to be getting worse.

Al Larkin, who has been in and out of the municipal shelter system for 19 years has stayed at several shelters in New York City.

Larkin accused The Andrews, a men’s shelter in Manhattan of torture, saying staff were purposefully waking him up every 4 hours to make sure he was still alive. He also accused the shelter of forcing him to sign documents without explaining to him what they were.

He says in his almost two decades in the shelter system that the conditions have only gotten worse.

“The conditions are worse because there are good people out here just trying to survive, but they are not connected or interacting with society... There’s no coherent statement of purpose [for the funds]. Are we here to get the homeless off the street? What is the homeless problem?” Larkin said.

In the past, Larkin has purposefully slept in parks and in stations so that he would not have to live in shelters. Recently, he was just kicked out of The Andrews.

A homeless woman at the Greenpoint Ave. G train station in Brooklyn. || Photo credit to Jason Paris

A homeless woman at the Greenpoint Ave. G train station in Brooklyn. || Photo credit to Jason Paris

Garrett Robinson has stayed at several shelters during his 26 months of homelessness as well.

“I guess I was grateful to not have to be on the streets because the streets were miserable. Yeah, there are safety concerns. There are thefts concerns. Anything gets stolen. They give you a lock though,“ Robinson said.

Robinson’s phone was stolen during his stay at the NHA Men’s Shelter.

However, he doesn’t see an end in sight for the betterment of New York’s shelter system.

“Considering what the city has to deal with and the number of people, I would say it’s almost an impossible task for them. I’d say they try really hard. It’s just tough... You’re dealing with so many issues. There are mental issues, addiction issues, and people who have had traumatic experiences... It’s not an ideal situation,“ Robinson said.

He was last at the NHA Men’s Shelter in May of 2015. He now lives in low income housing for artists in Brooklyn.

After several decades of neglecting issues like these, the conditions of the shelters were thrown into the limelight.

In 2016, there were a strings of murders and assaults taken place in shelters across all five boroughs, specifically in a Men’s Shelter in Manhattan. A 56-year-old man was stabbed to death and found in his bed the next morning in NHA Men’s Shelter, formerly known as Bellevue. He was pronounced dead and found with wire wrapped around his neck.

At the time of the murder - a supervisor, five peace officers, and 18 police officers were all on duty. In 2016, the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said there was a deficiency of cameras in the building as well. And according to Steven Banks, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services, they hadn’t had cameras in their 30 years as a shelter.

Banks said understaffing would be solved by hiring and training 600 new peace officers, along with the installation of cameras.

In February of 2017, Mayor Bill De Blasio also announced a five year plan to address the conditions of shelters and affordable housing called Turning the Tide.

In his five year plan, de Blasio wanted to reduce residents in shelters by 2,500 people And by 2026, he wanted to preserve or construct 300,000 affordable units. Overall, he wanted to create 90 new shelters and expand 30 existing ones.

“Today, we turn the page by launching a new, 21st century response to the 21st century reality of homelessness,” de Blasio said. “For years, too many families have struggled against rising rents to stay in the homes and communities they love. Our plan will continue to bring more people off the streets, reduce the number of shelter sites by almost half, while strengthening services and keeping homeless

De Blasio administration announces plan to turn the tide on homelessness with Borough-based approach. || Photo credit to nyc.gov

De Blasio administration announces plan to turn the tide on homelessness with Borough-based approach. || Photo credit to nyc.gov

New Yorkers closer to the supports they need to help them get back on their feet. It will take a united effort and the help of many New Yorkers, but together will turn the tide of homelessness.”

On Tuesday, the Coalition for the Homeless released their annual report, assessing de Blasio’s handling of the crisis.

The report’s author and policy director, Giselle Routhier said the city’s goal is not ambitious enough and criticized their lack of permanent housing for the homeless and the city’s affordable housing priorities.

Routhier also noted that only 5 percent of the budget was allocated to new housing for the homeless in general.

"The reality is people spend more than a year in shelters because there is no housing for them to relocate to," said Routhier to the Gothamist.

In the future, she said they need to construct at least 24,000 more units and preserve another 6,000 to begin improving the system.

As of Thursday night, The Department of Homeless Services were not available for an interview.