Still Undercounting Homeless New Yorkers

Amidst all-time record NYC homelessness, the Bloomberg administration released its latest flawed “guesstimate” of street homelessness, claiming that the numbers have declined despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The City’s latest HOPE survey estimate claimed that the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers fell slightly from last year, but that the number of homeless people sleeping in the subway system rose substantially. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

The number of homeless people sleeping in January on New York City’s subways climbed to an estimated 1,841, a 13% increase from the previous year and a 118% increase from 2005 when officials began collecting this data, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration said Wednesday.

While street homelessness remains low compared with other major U.S. cities, the number of people sleeping in city homeless shelters has climbed sharply during Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure. On average, more than 50,000 people slept each night in a city homeless shelter in January, including more than 21,000 children, marking a 22% increase in the past year. The city has seen one of the steepest rises in homeless families in the past decade, up 73% since 2002.

NY1 News also covered the release:

Even though the city says there are 28 percent fewer people living on the street since 2005, the Coalition for the Homeless says the way the count is conducted is questionable.

They say homelessness has risen to unprecedented levels on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s watch.

“By their own account, they don’t count people sleeping in non-visible locations,” said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless. “They don’t count people in every subway station, on every subway train. They don’t count people in every single neighborhood. So it’s simply a guesstimate.”

In response to the release, Coalition for the Homeless President Mary Brosnahan issued the following statement:

“Homelessness in New York City is at unprecedented levels under Mayor Bloomberg’s watch. 50,000 New Yorkers, including a record 21,000 children will sleep tonight in our emergency shelters.

Volunteers on our nightly feeding program, long-time outreach professionals and virtually anyone who lives in or commutes regularly in our city will find today’s announcement that street homelessness is down completely lacking in credibility.”

“Instead of trumpeting a deeply flawed study, Mayor Bloomberg should be investing in proven solutions to help ameliorate the suffering that has surged on his watch.”

Since its inception, we have noted many times how deeply flawed the City’s annual street homelessness survey and estimate is – see here and here. Following are highlights of the survey’s flaws:

Major Flaws of the Annual HOPE Survey

• The HOPE survey is an estimate, not a count — a fact that the City’s public relations strategy obscures.

• The City has refused to reveal how many homeless people are actually counted each year, NOT the “guesstimate.”

• The survey fails to count homeless people in non-visible locations — researchers think that some 40 percent of street homeless people sleep in non-visible locations.

• The survey has failed to adjust for obvious survey errors.

• Changing weather and other conditions make it impossible to compare one HOPE estimate with another.

• There are questions about whether the NYPD increases enforcement actions against street homeless people in the days leading up to the survey.

• The City’s claim that homelessness decreased in 2009, during the first year of the economic recession (and not so coincidentally, a NYC election year), is simply not credible.