No Way to Count Homeless New Yorkers

Tonight the City conducts its annual HOPE survey of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers. And once again, the survey’s numerous flaws mean that the resulting estimate will undercount the homeless population and misinform the general public.

As we’ve written in previous years, and in a briefing paper available here, there are major flaws in the City’s annual HOPE survey — we’ve summarized those flaws below. Most glaringly, the survey fails to include homeless people sleeping in non-visible locations, which researchers say make up some 40 percent of the unsheltered homeless population.

But even more troubling, year after year the Bloomberg administration conducts the HOPE survey like a PR extravaganza, complete with trailing TV news crews. This further confuses many New Yorkers into thinking that the survey and its resulting “guesstimate” are an actual count.

The bottom line is that Bloomberg administration officials’ spin from the annual survey — that street homelessness is down — sharply contrasts with what most New Yorkers see and what front-line service providers report. Street homelessness has become more and more visible in recent years, and soup kitchens and other emergency services are seeing more and more unsheltered homeless people seeking help.

And when you add this to the all-time record-high SHELTERED homeless population — now more than 48,000 people per night, including more than 20,000 children, up nearly 60 percent from when Bloomberg took office — it’s clear that New York City is still experiencing a historic and worsening homelessness crisis.

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.