State of the Homeless 2017

Rejecting Low Expectations: Housing is the Answer

NEW YORK, NY – The Coalition for the Homeless today released its State of the Homeless 2017, a comprehensive look at homelessness in New York City. The report finds that policy failures by the City and State have exacerbated the decades-long homelessness crisis stemming from New York’s severe lack of affordable housing and extreme income inequality. More than 62,000 men, women, and children currently sleep in New York City shelters each night, representing a 79 percent increase in the demand for shelter over the past decade.

In contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s recently released plan, which projects reducing the shelter census over the next five years by only 2,500 people, the report finds that the City and State have the tools at their disposal to bring the shelter census below 50,000 by 2020, while also improving conditions in shelters.

This year’s State of the Homeless includes a “report card” that grades the City and State on their respective efforts to prevent homelessness, improve the shelter system, and create long-term solutions. The Mayor’s grades range from an “A” in homelessness prevention to a “D” for the burdensome and error-prone intake and eligibility processes in the shelter system. Governor Cuomo’s grades range from a “B-” for State efforts to improve shelter conditions to an “F” in meeting the city’s unprecedented need for shelters.

“The cost of providing emergency shelter to homeless single adults and families has increased by roughly $700 million since 2011, and yet the State has borne less than 6 percent of that cost – relying almost exclusively on City and Federal funds to foot the bill for the crisis. If we are in a war on homelessness, the Governor is AWOL,” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy.

Extreme income inequality and unanticipated but rapid growth in the overall population of New York City together continue to push those at the lowest end of the income spectrum out of the housing market entirely, yet current City and State housing programs are proving insufficient in reversing the trend. The report recommends an aggressive course correction to prioritize housing production for homeless families and individuals on a scale to meet the level of need.

The report also criticizes Mayor de Blasio for the needlessly onerous intake processes and poor conditions within shelters – particularly cluster site units – as well as for not using all of the resources at the City’s disposal to help homeless New Yorkers move into stable permanent housing.

“The City cannot solve homelessness on its own, but it inexplicably refuses to use all of the available tools it does have. By simply increasing the number of homeless families provided with public housing units from 1,500 to 3,000 per year, the Mayor could immediately help thousands more homeless children and adults move into homes of their own. There is no excuse for failing to do so,” said Giselle Routhier, the Coalition’s Policy Director. “The solutions must be comprehensive and far-reaching enough to address the historic scale of this crisis, which is why we recommend that the City build 10,000 additional units of affordable housing for homeless families and individuals in the next five years. That is a far more prudent investment of public dollars than trying to maintain an unsustainably large shelter system,” she said.

The report card also gives the State an “Incomplete” for failing to release $1.9 billion in affordable and supportive housing funds appropriated in 2016 that have been stalled by squabbles among State leaders.


Key State of the Homeless Findings:
  • In early 2017, more than 62,000 men, women, and children were sleeping in New York City shelters each night, down slightly from the all-time high of 62,840 in November 2016.
  • Mayor de Blasio’s restoration of homeless families’ access to NYCHA and Section 8 housing and the creation of new rental subsidies have slowed the rate of increase in the shelter census, but more families and individuals continue to enter shelters than exit shelters each year.
  • In fiscal year 2016, a record 127,652 unique individuals (including 45,692 children) spent at least one night in the shelter system – an increase of 54 percent since 2002.
  • The shelter census has increased 4 percent since the same time last year and 79 percent since the beginning of 2007.
  • Fueling today’s record homelessness was the steep and sustained increase that took place between 2011 and 2014, as a result of the prior mayor’s elimination of all housing assistance programs for homeless families.
  • Income inequality contributes to homelessness, and nowhere in the country is inequality more extreme than in New York City. Paired with much more rapid population growth than anticipated, the poorest New Yorkers are being pushed out of the housing market entirely.




State of the Homeless 2017 also outlines key steps New York City and State can take immediately to improve housing and improve homeless shelter conditions and processes, which will in turn dramatically reduce homelessness.

New York City must immediately:

  • Increase the number of public housing placements for homeless families from 1,500 per year to at least 3,000 and the number of Section 8 and HPD resources to at least 2,500 placements. At least 5,500 placements per year are needed to regain the ground lost as a result of the 32,000 placements denied to homeless families during the “Lost Decade.”
  • Continue to place at least 3,000 families through City-funded rent subsidy programs each year.
  • Quickly open new units of supportive housing under the Mayor’s 15-year, 15,000-unit commitment.
  • Significantly increase the number of single adults provided with rental assistance or supported housing to at least 5,000 per year.
  • Create a new capital development program to finance at least 10,000 units of affordable housing for homeless households over the next five years.
  • Aggressively enforce the source-of-income anti-discrimination law with landlords who illegally reject families and individuals seeking to use housing vouchers to help pay their rent.
  • Provide all homeless individuals and families with housing application and housing search assistance, including all individuals and families placed in hotels and cluster site apartments.

New York State must immediately:

  • Release the $1.9 billion for affordable and supportive housing funds appropriated in 2016 and currently stalled due to inaction by the Governor and Legislative leaders.
  • Implement Assembly Member Hevesi’s proposal to create a State-funded long-term rent subsidy program, known as Home Stability Support.
  • Expand the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program to include households with a family member with a disability who is a child or an adult but is not the head of household.

The City and State must also improve shelter conditions and processes in order to reduce the trauma of homelessness for families, children, and single adults; provide lawful accommodations for people with disabilities; reduce the length of shelter stays; and reduce overall disruption for homeless children and students.

New York City must:

  • Open additional Transitional Living Community (aka “TLC”) shelter capacity – designed to provide intensive services to help people with psychiatric disabilities develop independent living skills – for homeless men with such needs.

New York State must immediately:

  • Reverse harmful cuts to New York City’s emergency shelter system, and share equally with New York City in the non-Federal cost of sheltering homeless families and individuals.

The City and State together should implement:

  • A less onerous shelter intake process, in which 1) applicants are assisted in obtaining required documents, 2) the housing history documentation requirement is limited to a list of residences for six months, and 3) recommended housing alternatives are verified as actually available and pose no risks to the health and safety of applicants or the continued tenancy of a potential host household.
  • Code blue policies using more rational temperature thresholds consistent with the medical literature on the prevention of hypothermia and frostbite, and which ensure access to daytime indoor shelter for vulnerable homeless individuals and families.
  • Revised discharge planning policies and procedures to prevent and regulate the discharge of patients from nursing homes and hospitals, to ensure that the needs of individuals with serious mental and physical disabilities are properly addressed and accommodated and that community placements other than homeless shelters are secured for them consistent with Olmstead
  • Sufficient shelter capacity to meet the need for families whose homelessness cannot be prevented and to appropriately accommodate people with disabilities. Such capacity should allow families and individuals to be placed as close to their communities of origin as possible to avoid disruptions to school, medical care, employment, and social supports.
  • Required mental health training for all personnel assigned to mental health shelters and intake facilities.