Tackling NYC Homelessness at its Roots

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In the NYC shelter population, 63% of them are adults, and 37% of them are children and teenagers. There are several drivers contributing to homelessness, and we will focus on rent burden and eviction on this webpage, the factor that accounts for 33% homeless population, which is also the major reason why adults become homeless. 

In 2017, the de Blasio administration pledged to respond to homelessness through a borough-based approach, to keep people in their communities. Locations with one or more risk factors are much more likely to generate new homelessness. The risk factors analyzed include poverty, unemployment, disabilities paying more than 35 percent of total income for rent, domestic violence, mental illness, poor physical health, and binge drinking.

In the decades that followed Callahan v. Carey, tackling the pervasive problem of homelessness spanned through mayors from across the political spectrum—from Dinkins's focus on the permanent shelter to Giuliani's punitive approach. In the 21st century, Bloomberg sharpened regulation, and de Blasio shifted the conversation from a right to shelter to a right to housing. Yet, the problem keeps growing, and today New Yorkers are looking for innovative solutions to provide permanent shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness. Looking at the percent change from 2006 to 2016, the Great Recession caused wages to fall and homelessness to rise. Yet, as the economy recovered, the plight of homeless New Yorkers did not. Political leaders and activists point to a rise in inequality and lack of access to opportunity in New York City, particularly focusing on the inadequate amount of affordable housing, in an increasingly unaffordable housing market.

Homelessness is complex and difficult to solve. There isn’t an easy fix. The first step is to recognize the overarching drivers of homelessness—racism, economic inequality, and out of reach physical and mental health services. Policy recommendations must be focused not only on reducing the population in New York shelters but preventing homelessness in the first place.