Social Issues

Survey conducted to determine full extent of New York City’s homeless crisis

By Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran

New York, Jan 25 (EFE).- Hundreds of volunteers braved the winter cold one night earlier this week to help determine the precise number of people sleeping on the street or in shelters in New York City, where the homeless population has reached a historically high level.

“Where are you sleeping tonight?” was the simple and direct question asked to each person found wandering the streets, whether or not they turned out to be homeless.

That census, which is carried out annually over the final 10 days of January for the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been conducted throughout the United States and in the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico since 2005.

The number of those sleeping on the street or in city-run shelters will later be tallied up to determine the amount of federal funds needed to service that community.

The census also will let city officials know how many public housing units are needed for its residents.

Last year’s census – the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) – found that around 3,439 people were sleeping in public places (outside of shelters) in New York, roughly in line with pre-pandemic levels.

That number had fallen to 2,376 in 2021, a year in which some homeless people had agreed to sleep in hotel rooms booked by the city because the metro stations they had been using at night were closed during those hours for Covid-19 disinfection.

The majority of New York’s homeless population sleeps in city shelters, which on Monday housed 69,384 people, 22,582 of whom were children, according to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

According to the New York-based Coalition for the Homeless, a not-for-profit advocacy group, the housing shortage in New York City in recent years has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

And the population of the city’s shelters, which were pushed to their limits after many people lost their homes during the early months of the pandemic, rose with the arrival of 42,000 immigrants.

Some went to the city of their own accord, but the majority were sent there on buses from Texas by that state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

The situation now amounts to a humanitarian crisis and has led to an urgent request for federal and state funding by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who on Tuesday night visited a school in Manhattan to personally thank the volunteers taking part in the homelessness survey.

That count, however, provides an estimate rather than a precise tally, and the most recent surveys have badly underestimated the real total, the Coalition for the Homeless has said repeatedly.

“As we have said time and time again, the HOPE Survey has serious methodological flaws and has no real value as a tool to help understand the scope of New York City’s homelessness crisis,” that organization’s executive director, David Giffen, said in a statement Tuesday.

“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.”

In a forum prior to the census that was hosted by Catholic Charities, an organization that also provides aid to the homeless, its executive director, Kevin Sullivan, recalled that a lack of accessible housing, job losses, domestic violence, eviction, addiction and mental health problems are what force people onto the streets.

The HOPE Survey volunteers began arriving at 9 pm at a Manhattan school that was one of 14 meeting points across the city’s five boroughs.

After being divided into 17 groups and listening to a brief talk by the mayor, they set out to do their work with a spirit of goodwill, several layers of clothing, a list of questions to ask the presumed homeless people they would encounter and a map of their route.

One of the volunteers, Marylin Mergar, said she had served as a volunteer on several previous occasions.

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