COVID-19 is driving New York City’s record homelessness figures, advocates say

The COVID-19 pandemic is fueling New York City’s homeless crisis to record numbers, according to local advocates. The Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing said more than 20,000 single adults were sleeping in shelters — more than any time in history.  

Between May and August, the group said the mortality rate for homeless individuals who died of coronavirus was 78% higher than the citywide average. “If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that housing is health care. Our homeless neighbors need the safety and stability of a home,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director of Coalition for the Homeless.

The CDC lists the homeless population as a “particularly vulnerable” group and has said the spread of COVID-19 can directly “contribute” to an increase in emergency shelter usage.

A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of Social Services said there’s an increasing need for shelter among adults, as well as service needs for those individuals. He also added that a wide range of factors has contributed to the higher average, including policies meant to combat mass incarceration by housing parolees, something the DSS considers a “positive progressive policy development, and deinstitutionalization over prior decades.”

“Drivers of homelessness like these are preventable — and we remain committed to doing everything we can to prevent homelessness where possible and to connect the New Yorkers who come to us with the permanent housing that will help them find stability for the long-term,” the spokesperson said. 

The department sponsors rental assistance, free legal assistance for eviction proceedings, and rehousing initiatives for at-risk families. Without many of the current programs, city officials project that the number of people in shelters could have been as high as 71,000.

Advocates are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to build 20,000 units of supportive housing to accommodate the need of single adults. A spokesperson with the New York State Division of the Budget told CBS New York the administration is “continuing to fund a $20 billion homelessness and housing plan,” and will complete its goal of building the units over the next 15 years. 

“Governor Cuomo knows how life-changing supportive housing can be for the most vulnerable New Yorkers – now we need him to follow through on the promise he made five years ago to fund 20,000 units of this desperately needed housing,” said Routhier. 

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