Programmatic Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating social, economic, and political consequences have been felt throughout the city – but the heaviest burden has fallen on those who were already struggling. Tonight, more than 53,000 people, including 11,000 families and 16,000 children, will sleep in the municipal shelter system. Thousands more live without shelter, fighting for survival on our streets.

Homeless New Yorkers have nowhere to self-quarantine, cannot practice social distancing, and those on the streets lack even regular access to a sink with running water and soap to wash their hands. Furthermore, homeless New Yorkers are far more likely to have the types of underlying medical conditions that result in high mortality rates from COVID-19.

The first shelter-in-place order from the Governor on March 20, 2020 resulted in many frontline services for homeless people – such as soup kitchens, food pantries, and drop-in centers – suspending operations, which created a tremendous surge in need on the streets that has continued over the past year. In response, below are just some of the steps the Coalition for the Homeless has taken to date:

  • Our nightly mobile soup kitchen increased meal production by 40 percent and has handed out roughly 500,000 emergency meals since the onset of the pandemic.
  • We handed out more than a quarter million surgical masks and 60,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to homeless New Yorkers to stem transmission of the virus.
  • We distributed thousands of prepaid cash cards that homeless people can use to purchase essentials like hygiene items, OTC medications, food, and clothing.
  • We partnered with Doctors Without Borders to open two Relief Centers – one in Midtown West, the other in Harlem – which offered unsheltered homeless people showers, toilets, PPE, clothing, bottled water, snacks and resource guides.
  • We partnered with the Center for Urban Community Services to provide COVID-19 vaccines to unsheltered homeless adults at a midtown Manhattan stop of our mobile food program.
  • We handed out thousands of coats, sleeping bags, blankets, care kits, and other warm winter gear.
  • We added a full-time Outreach Worker to our Grand Central Food Program to enhance our capacity to offer more comprehensive services to unsheltered New Yorkers.
  • We opened a Crisis Services Hotline so that those in need of shelter and referrals can safely receive assistance. The hotline is currently serving roughly 800 individuals each month.
  • We created accurate and continually updated Resource Guides by borough that allow both service providers and homeless people to remain informed about available services during the crisis.
  • We installed specially designed offices where homeless New Yorkers can safely meet in person with our caseworkers.
  • We launched an emergency program (“EP+”) to provide eviction prevention and rental assistance to households at risk of homelessness who do not qualify for other sources of aid.
  • We provided hundreds of gift cards to households served in our Eviction Prevention Program to help cover food costs during the pandemic.
  • We provided direct financial support to the roughly 150 formerly homeless New Yorkers who live in our permanent housing programs.

In addition to our ongoing programmatic responses to the crisis, we (through our partners at The Legal Aid Society) brought two new pieces of litigation against the City in the past year on behalf of homeless New Yorkers. Fisher v. City of New York was filed to push the City to offer single-occupancy hotel rooms to all homeless single adults; and E.G. v. City of New York succeeded in compelling the City to install WiFi in all shelters with school-age children so that the kids are no longer being denied access to remote education.

We also released two new reports in April: View from the Street, which summarizes our findings after interviewing more than 200 unsheltered New Yorkers on the streets of the city of about their needs and experiences; and State of the Homeless 2021, which includes a summary of our major policy recommendations for both the Mayor and the Governor.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and national economic crisis will surely be felt for years to come, and will continue to threaten the lives and wellbeing of homeless and low-income New Yorkers. The Coalition will continue to operate seven days a week, as it always has, protecting the lives and wellbeing of our most vulnerable neighbors.

To support our efforts, please consider donating, by clicking here.

Watch the Grand Central Food Program in action: