The problem

New York City has an outdated, linear homeless service system that prioritizes emergency shelters ahead of permanent housing. This broken “shelter first” system simply manages homelessness and fails to provide a pathway to end it. Instead of preventing homelessness, the system mandates a minimum 90-day shelter stay for most families to qualify for rental assistance, resulting in nearly 700 families entering shelter each month.

On a single night in January 2020, 77,934 people experienced homelessness in NYC out of 91, 271 people statewide.

Here are the facts

The majority of people experiencing homelessness in New York State live in New York City.

Over 85% of people experiencing homelessness in New York State are in New York City.

This is true for children and adults staying in shelters and people living unsheltered.

Children bear the brunt of the homelessness crisis in New York City.

Download the Homelessness in NYC Fact Sheet

The majority of people experiencing homelessness in NYC are children and families. Living in shelters during these critical early years can cause lasting damage to children's health and development.

Over 1/3 of all individuals in NYC homeless shelters are children - half of whom are under the age of six.

In 2019, 1 in 100 NYC newborns went to a Department of Homeless Services emergency shelter facility.

Over the last decade, families experiencing homelessness in NYC increased by 40%, making up 60% of people in shelter.

More than 17,000 children experienced homelessness every day in 2021.

On average a family experiencing homelessness stays in shelter for 520 days.

25% of families experiencing homelessness live in NYC.

People experience homelessness for a wide range of often overlapping reasons including:

  • Domestic violence and domestic disputes
  • Formal and informal evictions
  • Increasing rents and lack of affordable housing
  • Unsafe housing conditions
  • Job loss
  • Loss of income
  • Environmental factors (fire, flood, hurricane)
  • Institutional discharge without planning (i.e. prison, jail, foster care)

Housing justice is racial justice

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The United States has a history of using housing policy to create, compound and maintain systemic racial inequality. These policies historically prevented communities of color, especially Black, Latino and Indigenous households, from owning property and building wealth. As a result, Black and Latino families disproportionately experience homelessness compared to white families nationwide and in New York City.


NYC spends billions on shelters

New York City spends more than $3 billion annually to assist people experiencing homelessness, but 70% of that goes to operating shelters. This expensive band-aid solution simply manages homelessness and fails to provide a pathway to end it.

Shelter First

This shelter first approach is in direct conflict with federal (HUD) guidance that emphasizes homelessness prevention policies that are proven to reduce homelessness.

Instead, NYC invests billions of dollars on shelter stays that fail to put families on a pathway to permanent housing.

Emergency shelter is more expensive and worse for New Yorkers' health and wellbeing than permanent housing. Providing a family with a single day of shelter is $135 more expensive than providing that family with permanent rental housing at the Fair Market Rent. This difference in cost only grows over time.

Homelessness is a public health crisis

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Health and housing are inextricably linked. Stable housing makes it easier to become and remain healthy, just as being healthy makes it easier to become and remain stably housed. Homelessness and housing instability can cause long-term harm to people at every stage of life. There can be no right to health without a right to housing.

Poor Physical Health

Homelessness leads to shorter life expectancy and higher rates of chronic conditions.

Mental Health Risks

Homelessness increases risk of serious mental illness and substance use conditions.

Child Developmental Delays

Young children experiencing homelessness are more likely to face developmental delays.

Education Inequities

Children facing homelessness are at an increased risk of missing and falling behind in school.

Food Insecurity

People dealing with housing insecurity and homelessness are more likely to skip meals.

Compounding Stress

People dealing with housing insecurity and homelessness experience endemic stress.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the interdependence between housing stability and health.

Download COVID and Homelessness in NYC

The virus has disproportionately impacted people experiencing homelessness, and the pandemic has revealed just how many New Yorkers are on the brink of homelessness.

The stress and act of living on the street or in a shelter make people experiencing homelessness exponentially more likely to contract and be at risk of dying from COVID-19. Contracting the virus can also cause housing instability through financial disruption, job loss, or by instigating long-term chronic conditions that require in-home support.

The financial downturn brought about by the pandemic increased joblessness, rent payment issues and housing instability nationwide. The stress of the pandemic can exacerbate unstable housing situations and family strife, causing homelessness.

Homelessness is a crisis that touches every neighborhood in New York City. It doesn't have to be this way. Learn about how we can solve homelessness.

Solutions Page