New Survey Shows that City is Failing to Meet the Needs of Unsheltered New Yorkers

Analysis Highlights the Need for Solutions that Provide Safety, Dignity, and Agency for Individuals on the Streets, and Fewer Barriers to Housing Access

The Coalition for the Homeless released a new report, View From the Street, summarizing the findings of more than 200 interviews with unsheltered New Yorkers on the streets of the city over the past three years. As the public health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape life in New York City and the number of homeless single adults continues to skyrocket, the report analyzes why, despite the City’s stepped up deployment of outreach teams, thousands continue to bed down each night in doorways, parks, subways, and other places not meant for human habitation.

The report finds that more than three-quarters of those surveyed had utilized the shelter system at some point, but found it did not meet their needs. Through interviews and personal accounts from those on the streets, the survey identified common themes in the individuals’ reasons for not returning to shelters, including the loss of safety, dignity, and agency they experienced in shelters. When asked what it would take to come in off the streets, the most frequent answer was “housing.”

Eighty-four percent of respondents had been approached by City outreach teams, but most reported that what the outreach teams offered was not what they needed.

The View From the Street report is being released 40 years after the groundbreaking study Private Lives / Public Spaces, by Coalition for the Homeless co-founders Ellen Baxter and Kim Hopper (who contributes the foreword to this report), first brought wide attention to the challenges facing unsheltered New Yorkers, in March of 1981.

“People bedding down on the streets are not there by choice, they are there because they lack any meaningful choice. Many of these individuals have significant physical health and mental health issues, and the systems currently in place simply fail to meet their needs. Especially now, during the pandemic, what more evidence do we need that housing is health care? The only way to address this crisis is for the City and State to show moral leadership and dedicate the resources necessary to create true housing options to help individuals to come in off the streets and remain indoors,” said the report’s author, Lindsey Davis, Senior Director of Crisis Services at Coalition for the Homeless.


“Homelessness has taken on a rarified connotation that I’m a stereotype instead of being minus a home, and the two shouldn’t be connected, but they are. We’re not your enemies. We’re your sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and nothing has changed except that I don’t have access to a key and an apartment,” said one of the survey respondents, “E.D.”

The View From the Street report concludes with recommendations for the City and State to reduce the number of people sleeping unsheltered each night by reducing barriers to housing and reforming shelter options until housing is made available.

Recommendations include:

  • Accelerate the supportive housing pipeline and eliminate bureaucratic barriers to placement, with a true Housing First model.
  • Ensure that undocumented New Yorkers have equal access to affordable and supportive housing.
  • Reform the process for documenting unsheltered homelessness for the purpose of eligibility for supportive housing by eliminating unnecessary barriers and needlessly complex requirements.
  • Allow individuals with multiple disabling conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, or chronic/severe medical issues to enter Safe Havens without first proving they have been on the streets for nine months and/or out of the DHS municipal shelter system for six months.
  • Reform the process of providing outreach to unsheltered homeless individuals to a client-centered, harm reduction approach. This reform should include expanding the number of providers that conduct outreach in the subways.


Read the Report