Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 2021

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JANUARY 2021 SURVEY ESTIMATES FEWER UNSHELTERED NEW YORKERS ON THE STREETS AND SUBWAYS THIS WINTER

Results of January 2021 survey consistent with data gathered by outreach teams

NEW YORK— The Department of Homeless Services today announced that the annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) Survey of unsheltered homelessness in New York City, conducted in January 2021, found that 2,376 individuals were experiencing unsheltered homelessness on the streets of New York during week of January 26 this winter. This figure represents a 38 percent decrease in the estimated number of individuals living unsheltered in NYC in the winter, compared to the point-in-time estimate conducted in January 2020, prior to the pandemic. These estimates continue to align with and confirm what the City's HOME-STAT outreach teams have been seeing on the ground, and underscore the positive preliminary results of intensified outreach strategies implemented over the past year-and-a-half and expanded during the pandemic. In total, since the launch of the HOME-STAT program in 2016, through persistent and compassionate outreach efforts, HOME-STAT outreach teams have helped more than 4,200 New Yorkers experiencing unsheltered homelessness come off the streets and subways into transitional and permanent settings.

"Since my administration launched the most comprehensive outreach program in the country, we have helped over 4,000 sheltered New Yorkers off the streets,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “From opening more beds to hiring more outreach workers, we have deepened our commitment to Journey Home in the face of an unprecedented health crisis. Together we will help more New Yorkers find their path to stability. That’s what a recovery for all of us looks like. 

“A survey that documents a decrease in unsheltered individuals in New York is always welcomed news, but it should not deter us from the work that still needs to be done in this space,” said Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Melanie Hartzog. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, New York City will create more opportunities for unsheltered individuals to build a solid foundation for themselves and create necessary housing stability. Utilizing resources from every corner of our City – from housing, to wellness and skills development – we are committed to closing these gaps.”

“The HOPE Survey is an important tool we use to check our work every year – and the survey conducted this winter continues to align with and affirm the efforts our outreach teams are making on the ground year-round,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “While this winter estimate is only a point-in-time snapshot, and we know there is always more work to do, our outreach teams who reported for duty 24/7 throughout this pandemic made real important progress this past year connecting New Yorkers living unsheltered to essential services, which is more important than ever before. With expanded outreach teams, new outreach tools, over 1,300 new specialized beds, and new approaches developed during this emergency, these unsung heroes have helped hundreds of individuals get back on their feet under extraordinary circumstances in this historic period for our City and played a vital role in helping more than 4,200 unsheltered individuals come off the streets and subways into transitional and permanent housing under the HOME-STAT program since 2016.”

Key Survey Context: External Variables

The annual point-in-time HOPE Survey and resulting estimate are subject to external factors that vary year to year, such as weather conditions. When the weather is colder, for example, there tend to be fewer individuals surveyed on the night of HOPE, and the opposite when the weather is warmer. To that end, the January 2021 HOPE Survey was conducted during a cold week when temperatures dropped as low as 21 degrees and did not exceed 35 degrees, during a cold winter in New York City, in which the City experienced snowfall in the 30 days preceding the Survey. Comparatively, in 2020, when more than 3,800 unsheltered individuals were estimated to be living unsheltered on the streets/subways, it was 40 degrees on the night the survey was conducted, and the City experienced no snowfall in the preceding 30 days.

This year’s Survey effort was also impacted by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, which required adjustments to the Survey staffing and approach in order to protect the safety of canvassers, unsheltered individuals, and the general public alike. While other jurisdictions chose to forgo the annual Survey, NYC believes these efforts were too important to skip or cancel, and made the adjustments necessary to the preserve data-gathering mission. For example, this year, to maintain safety for all, the City relied on City staff and its contracted outreach teams, surveying over the course of several nights, rather than recruiting volunteers to perform the survey on a single night. 

These adjustments were made possible by the City’s robust outreach infrastructure under the HOME-STAT program, which is the most comprehensive street homeless outreach program in the country. Thanks to staff and outreach teams’ expertise and professionalism, as well as their familiarity with the work, individuals living on the  streets, and the history of the Survey efforts in NYC, the City was able to preserve the same sampling approach it has used every year since 2005. That said, as a result of the adjustments due to the pandemic, comparing to prior years’ estimates is not exactly apples to apples.

Key Outreach Progress: Addressing Unsheltered Homelessness with Subway Focus and New Tools

Overall, DSS-DHS has made real progress connecting unsheltered New Yorkers to housing and services over the past several years, including during 2020 – despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. To that end, since the last HOPE Survey was conducted in January 2020, the City has hired more outreach staff, provided outreach teams with new tools, and opened more than 1,300 specialized beds for unsheltered New Yorkers, with hundreds more opening in the coming months: 

  • In 2014, there were 600 beds citywide 
  • By December 2019, we’d increased that total to approximately 1,800 and released the Journey Home plan, which committed to further expanding outreach on the subways, with a particular focus on high-activity and end-of-line stations. 
  • During 2020, as part of that commitment, we opened over 1,300 more specialized beds, including in commercial hotel locations, which have played a key role in helping hundreds of unsheltered New Yorkers get back on their feet since the January 2020 Survey, as they have enabled our outreach teams to offer more housing options
  • As a result, by the time the survey was conducted this January 2021, we’d more than quintupled the number of specialized beds citywide, from 600 in 2014 to more than 3,000
  • We’ve continued this momentum, opening more beds already this year, with hundreds more opening in the coming months 

Additionally, in response to the New York State Metropolitan Transit Authority’s decision to shut down overnight service for the City’s subway system due to the pandemic, the City built upon existing outreach programs to enhance overnight outreach efforts at end-of-line subway stations, including by increasing the number of outreach workers at those locations and providing them with expanded resources to engage unsheltered individuals and encourage them to accept services that can help them get back on their feet.

Taken together with additional reforms to strengthen and streamline outreach, such as expedited shelter placement, including into specialized stabilization beds, for any individuals interested in coming inside off the subways, these strategies helped bring hundreds of individuals off the subways and into shelter in the past year.

“This year’s HOPE Survey results are a testament to the commitment, compassion, and dedication of our outreach teams, provider partners, and City staff, who were focused 24/7/365  throughout this pandemic on providing assistance to New Yorkers in need,” said Department of Homeless Services Administrator Joslyn Carter. “For hundreds of New Yorkers who were living unsheltered, our outreach teams provided a helping hand and a lifeline, connecting them to the supports that will help them get back on their feet. We thank these essential workers for their service in the face of incredible challenges – and for the countless ways they adapted and met the moment in response to this crisis, including to ensure New York City didn’t have to forgo this important survey effort. While we know there is always more work to be done, New Yorkers should be proud of the positive impact these teams have had on so many lives this year – and know that we remain focused on always redoubling those efforts to take this progress further and reach those New Yorkers we have not been able to reach yet. Together with our not-for-profit provider partners. we intend to keep coming back to rebuild the trust and make the breakthrough that can help more individuals rebuild their lives.” 

Outreach teams understand that it can take hundreds of engagements to establish the trust that encourages someone to accept services, which must be voluntary. Together, the City and not-for-profit outreach service provider partners remain undeterred in the ongoing effort to engage unsheltered New Yorkers proactively, offering services and support, until making those breakthroughs that bring someone inside. 

New Yorkers who see individuals they believe to be experiencing homeless and in need of assistance should contact 3-1-1 via phone or mobile app and request outreach assistance for the most immediate response.

“Thanks to the indefatigable and collaborative efforts of BRC’s dedicated staff and our nonprofit colleagues, and the allocation of vital new resources by our government partners under the leadership of DHS, hundreds of New Yorkers who a year ago were sleeping on the subways are now sleeping safely in beds,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, President and CEO, Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC). “It has been my honor and that of all of us at BRC to be a part of this incredible effort that has saved lives and made our City a better place for all those who live here.”

“The decrease of individuals experiencing street homelessness is good news and due in large part to the work of outreach staff across New York City who didn’t stop their efforts throughout the pandemic. But there is much more work to do,” said Joseph DeGenova, President and CEO, Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS). “Many New Yorkers still lack access to affordable housing, and the economic and emotional toll of COVID is still being realized. CUCS - as the leader in providing street medicine and psychiatric care in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens - and its dedicated staff will continue to work as tirelessly as they did during the darkest days of the pandemic, many times putting the health and welfare of clients living on the street ahead of their own. Until every last New Yorker experiencing homelessness has access to medical and mental health care and housing, we will continue to focus on the triad of services we offer: outreach and housing placement, street medicine, and psychiatry and will continue to lead the Manhattan Outreach Consortium with core partners Breaking Ground and Goddard Riverside.” 

"The addition of new transitional housing resources since the start of the pandemic has helped hundreds of New Yorkers who were sleeping unsheltered to come indoors," said Brenda Rosen, President and CEO, Breaking Ground. "We are proud of what our outreach teams have accomplished under the most difficult and extraordinary circumstances of the past year. Breaking Ground remains steadfast in our commitment to meeting people where they are and offering connections to life-saving services and housing." 

“We are pleased to see that the number of unhoused people is down this year,” said Dr. Roderick L. Jones, Executive Director, Goddard Riverside. “We take this moment to celebrate with the City of New York and all the providers that do this work.  We are committed to efforts to further eradicate homelessness.”

“The pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges, including for our street homeless outreach team in the Bronx and the other teams that do the work in other boroughs,” said Juan Rivera, Program Director, BronxWorks. “During normal times it takes extraordinary commitment and persistence to reach and assist street homeless individuals. Outreach work cannot be done remotely, and we are proud of our staff who showed up for work every day despite the challenges. This year there was a substantial reduction of street homelessness in the Bronx and indeed across the City. We would also like to thank our partners at DHS who expanded the options for street homeless individuals by increasing transitional, low-threshold shelter capacity for those who are most resistant. The adversity of this past year cannot be understated, yet our collective success cannot be overstated.” 

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About the New York City Department of Homeless Services:

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) works to prevent homelessness before it occurs, address street homelessness and assist homeless New Yorkers in transitioning from shelter and the street to permanent housing. DHS collaborates with not-for-profit partners to provide temporary shelter and services that homeless New Yorkers need to achieve and maintain housing permanency. In April 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced a major restructuring of homeless services in New York City, followed by the release of a comprehensive plan in February 2017 to turn the tide on homelessness, neighborhood by neighborhood. The plan’s guiding principle is community and people first; giving homeless New Yorkers, who come from every community across the five boroughs, the opportunity to be sheltered closer to their support networks and anchors of life in the communities they called home in order to more quickly stabilize their lives. Learn more about how DHS is turning the tide on homelessness, neighborhood by neighborhood, at nyc.gov/tide.

About the City's HOME-STAT Program:

The most comprehensive street outreach program in the nation, HOME-STAT (Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams) focuses on connecting individuals living on the street, who each have a unique path to the streets, with the unique combination of services that will enable them to transition off the streets. All street homeless outreach teams have licensed clinicians who work with clients on the streets. In addition to receiving on-going case management, people are assessed for immediate risk/crisis during each encounter. The teams also have psychiatrists who perform psychiatric evaluations on the streets and thereby help us understand and better meet the individual needs of each street homeless New Yorker. These clinicians and psychiatrists help our outreach teams connect with street homeless individuals who may be difficult to engage. Many have fallen through every available safety net, and experience trauma and challenges, including mental health and substance use challenges that may make outreach more complicated. Accepting outreach efforts, including services that will help homeless New Yorkers transition indoors from the streets, is voluntary, but we remain undeterred in our efforts to engage them proactively and aggressively, and offering assistance and services, until we make the connection that will help them transition off the streets. Our teams continue to reach out to these New Yorkers to offer services and help them come indoors. HOME-STAT also provides aftercare services, continuing to work with individuals who receive placements to ensure that they receive the support they need to remain in housing and off of the street.