Coalition Testifies on Unsheltered Homelessness in NYC

On May 3, 2022, the Coalition for the Homeless submitted joint testimony with The Legal Aid Society to the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare regarding unsheltered homelessness in New York City.

Over the past few months, Mayor Adams’ policy of aggressive sweeps has upended the lives of hundreds of homeless New Yorkers throughout the city, destroying their belongings, inflicting trauma, and disrupting their access to services – all while failing to help people move into permanent housing or shelter beds in private, single-occupancy rooms where they feel safe.

In February, we released a statement condemning Mayor Adams’ “Subway Safety Plan” and, in March, we released a statement denouncing his encampment-clearing plan, in which we reiterated that the City should focus on offering people a better option than the streets and subways rather than criminalizing homelessness. He did not listen. Then, in April, we released a joint statement with The Legal Aid Society urging Mayor Adams to stop the traumatic sweeps. This approach is counterproductive and makes it much more difficult to connect people with housing, shelters, and services. It is also in direct violation of CDC guidance.

The solution to homelessness is housing. In our testimony, we again called on the City to invest in affordable permanent housing where our homeless neighbors can reside in peace, away from the elements and other dangers on the street. We implored the City to immediately offer real permanent housing and safe, private shelter options in single rooms to unsheltered people, and to cease these cruel, pointless, and ineffective sweeps.

The testimony included several key recommendations:

Mayor Adams must:

  • Cease encampment-clearing operations and street sweeps and focus instead on connecting people to resources they want, including low-barrier shelters and permanent housing.
  • Prohibit NYPD from responding to 311 calls requesting assistance for homeless individuals and remove NYPD from all homeless outreach functions. Calls to 311 should only result in the deployment of properly trained DHS-contracted outreach workers.
  • Halt the deployment of additional police in response to homeless people located in transit facilities and trains.
  • Implement the CCIT-NYC campaign’s proposal for non-police responses to mental health crises.
  • Adopt a client-centered, harm reduction approach to outreach for unsheltered homeless individuals, including trained peers on outreach teams and equipping each team with essential items such as socks, hand sanitizer, menstrual products, backpacks, clothing, and coats.
  • Ensure notices are translated into multiple languages in compliance with Local Law 30 and provide required interpretation during outreach and other interactions with unsheltered New Yorkers.
  • Open at least 3,000 new Safe Haven and stabilization beds in single-occupancy rooms and offer them to all unsheltered homeless individuals, with a focus on expanding the number of these facilities for women and transgender or gender-non-conforming individuals, and increase drop-in center capacity citywide.
  • Allow individuals with disabilities or chronic/severe medical issues to enter Safe Havens without first proving they have been on the streets for a certain length of time.
  • Open a sufficient network of public restrooms and 24-hour warming and cooling centers throughout the city with proper air filtration and ventilation, appropriate safety protocols, and adequate personal protective equipment.
  • Administratively clear all summonses for “quality of life” offenses issued to people as a result of their homeless status.
  • Expand the number of overdose prevention centers and ensure that lifesaving harm reduction services are readily available to all New Yorkers.
  • Expand access to low-barrier physical and mental health care, including virtual care and street medicine.
  • Avoid characterizations of homeless people that stereotype them as mentally ill and violent.

Finally, we called on the City Council to pass the three pieces of legislation presented at the hearing – Intro. 211, Intro. 212, and the pre-considered legislation T2022-1077 – which would increase transparency and accountability in New York City’s homelessness and housing systems.

The full testimony can be read here.

For additional recommendations to the City and the State, see our State of the Homeless 2022 report.