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Comptroller: NYC Rejected Vast Majority of Homeless Families Looking For Shelter

Amidst an unprecedented number of homeless people in New York, the City's social services are still very good at keeping people homeless.

Inception Grand Central. (Hell Gate)

As thousands of migrants continue to arrive in the city each week, advocates have called on the Adams administration to speed up the process by which families leave the City's shelter system and are placed in more permanent housing. But the Department of Homeless Services also has another tool in its pocket to try to keep people out of City's shelters—just denying them entry in the first place. 

According to an audit from Comptroller Brad Lander's office, during fiscal year 2022, only 20 percent of families with children who went to DHS intake centers were eventually deemed eligible for a family shelter placement. Eighty-two percent of those families were turned away because of bureaucratic issues like failing to complete housing history forms, failing to cooperate with DHS employees, or not meeting "family make up" requirements. The other 18 percent were denied because DHS said they had other places to live, like with families or friends. A previous report by Lander's office found that DHS intake workers were often doing inadequate investigations of a family's housing history, arbitrarily denying them placement in the City's shelter system. The new report also found that it's harder for adult families (without children) than those that have families to get into the shelter system, but both types still remain unlikely to be accepted into the shelter system. 

When families get into the City's shelter system, they often stay there for over two years (with wait times steadily increasing since 2020), but when those families finally get out of the shelter system, either through placement in NYCHA or when given a housing voucher, 99 percent of those families don't return to the shelter system after a year. A bit of good news the report found: During the first part of 2023, the average length of stay in a shelter for all shelter residents has decreased by up to 15 percent, when compared to the same period as 2022—but it's still an incredibly long time for families to be without stable housing. 

Earlier this year, the City Council voted to increase the number of housing vouchers the City offers, in an attempt to help people languishing in the City's overcrowded shelter system obtain permanent housing. Mayor Eric Adams vetoed the measure, and the City Council overrode that veto this July. The increased number of housing vouchers won't be available until 180 days after the override, and that's only if the Adams administration doesn't sue to stop the law in the meantime. 

In the report, Lander called for building more supportive and affordable housing, and "providing subsidies to homeless families to reduce their time in the shelter system, scaling up effective 'housing first' programs for people who are sleeping on the street." 

But Lander's report also warned that vouchers will face decreasing utility during a time of sky-high rents in the city—meaning that even when the City uses its best tool to get people off of the streets and out of shelters, the speculative greed of landlords still stands as a formidable obstacle. 

If only there was a way to just help people stay in their homes in the first place? But why bother doing that when the City can just deny people help anyway. Problem solved!

As of July, the City's shelter population was 81,630, the highest it has ever been. 

Some links to start your "wow where is everybody" late August day: 

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