A federal survey that counts individuals sleeping on the streets, parks, and subways on a given winter night every year, found that there are two percent fewer unsheltered homeless individuals in New York City, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) announced this week.
The federally-mandated Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) survey, conducted this year on January 29, found that 3,588 individuals were on the streets that night, making it “the second year in a row that this point-in-time survey has shown a decrease,” a DHS statement says. The survey showed there were 3,675 unsheltered homeless individuals in 2018 and 3,892 in 2017.
But the federal HOPE survey has been largely criticized over the years, given its limitations, including the weather on the one night per year it is conducted. When temperatures drop, homeless individuals seek temporary shelter, so they are less likely to be on the streets, advocates say. This is something that DHS acknowledges in their HOPE survey reports. For instance, the survey also showed that homelessness in subways increased by 23 percent, likely due to colder temperatures on the night of the survey.
Last fall, a Cuomo administration agency signed off on a new shelter on Wards Island to be operated by HELP Social Services, part of a nonprofit founded decades ago by the governor and chaired by his sister, Maria Cuomo Cole.
The Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance had inspected the facility several times before and after it opened on three floors in a state psychiatric hospital. On Oct. 5, the agency certified that the site on the island between Manhattan and Queens was fit to provide safe lodging for single homeless men, records show.
Then cold weather arrived.
Inspections by the Coalition for the Homeless found interior temperatures in two dozen rooms on all three floors of the new shelter hit lows in the high 50s. Men slept with their jackets on. Extra blankets and space heaters arrived, but the chill remained. At one point, some men were moved into city-run shelters.
That wasn’t the only problem for HELP on Wards Island. An investigation by THE CITY discovered that as the state has approved an expansion of HELP’s homeless shelters in the city, multiple woes have plagued the nonprofit’s four Wards Island facilities.
Health care is at the center of the national policy conversation, and with the 2020 presidential election now in full swing, that is where it will probably remain. But for all the talk about how to increase access and reduce costs, we’re missing a critical piece of the puzzle: the inverse relationship between health care costs and spending on social programs.
One reason the United States spends more on health care than any other nation — more than 17 percent of gross domestic product, compared with an average of 9 percent for other advanced economies — is that we spend far less on social services like food stamps, free school lunches and public housing.
If our spending on social programs were more in line with other developed countries, our health care costs would fall. That means that as policymakers evaluate a social program, they should weigh not only its direct and second-order benefits — from reducing crime and recidivism to increasing productivity — but also its effect on lowering federal health care costs.