Street homelessness increased as COVID-19 lashed NY’s shelter system
The number of New Yorkers sleeping on the Big Apple’s streets or in its subways climbed to a near-five year high in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic rocked the city’s sprawling shelter system.
However, the number of new families seeking a roof over their heads fell dramatically over the same period of time, as officials barred evictions in March as the COVID-19 outbreak began.
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was correlated with a further decline in family shelter entries, as evictions were suspended and some families may have sheltered in place,” city officials wrote in the Mayor’s Management Report, which was released late Thursday.
The document reported there were 3,857 people living without permanent housing or in a shelter tallied by the annual federal HOPE survey conducted in January.
That’s up 7 percent from the 3,588 reported over the same period in 2019 and just slightly below the previous five-year high of 3,892 in 2017, the statistics show.
Officials reported in the MMR that they offered more than 5,900 referrals for shelter and other services to unsheltered New Yorkers between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, compared to the preceding 12 months. That’s the same reporting period as City Hall uses for its annual budget.
Amid the awfulness of COVID-19, there was a smidge of good news.
The number of Big Apple families seeking new placement into city shelters fell dramatically compared to last year — a development that officials chalked up to the implementation of March eviction moratorium that seems to have kept people in their homes amid the pandemic’s financial hardship.
New York households with children entering shelter fell to 10,087 in 2020, down 16 percent from 11,965 in 2019.
The number of families with just adults plummeted from 1,433 in 2019 to just 1,118 in 2020.
But the coronavirus outbreak was a nightmare for the thousands of New Yorkers who lived in the city’s barracks-style shelters, where it was nearly impossible to social distance.
That forced officials to move roughly 10,000 people from those facilities into hotel rooms across the city for safety reasons, striking a $78 million deal with the Hotel Association of New York City to find and rent the rooms.
All told, the disease struck more than 1,400 homeless New Yorkers, killing at least 104 people. Shelter residents accounted for almost all of the cases, more than 1,200, according to Department of Homeless Services stats.
“To protect its most vulnerable clients — including those over 70 years of age who were neither sick nor symptomatic — DHS made special accommodations in dedicated shelters in its system for residents to isolate,” DHS claimed in the report. “To inhibit the virus’s spread, DHS strategically relocated clients out of larger shelters with congregate settings to commercial hotels, which were able to provide greater social distancing for the clients who were relocated and protected the residents of the targeted shelters from which they relocated.”
However, that created its own headache as officials and nonprofits sometimes struggled to deliver services and provide security in hotel facilities doing double duty.
Neighborhood activists — particularly on the Upper West Side and in Midtown — launched campaigns to relocate the homeless residents, arguing they were responsible for panhandling, public drug use and other quality of life concerns.
They were quickly met by opponents of their own, who argued their complaints betrayed the area’s famously liberal values and were driven by NIMBYism.
De Blasio said in August his administration was beginning to eye ways to wind down the program as criticism mounted and the coronavirus outbreak remained contained.
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