Street Homelessness down in New York: Survey

March 5, 2008

This will come as a surprise for those who meet panhandlers in the streets and subways almost everyday. Street homelessness is down by 12 percent compared to 2007 figures.

The city now has 3,306 unsheltered individuals according to latest figures by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). This latest statistics released on March 4, 2008 is the result of the annual street survey conducted by DHS on the night of January 28, 2008 in the streets and subways all over the five boroughs of the city.

Borough-wise, Manhattan still tops the list of unsheltered homeless individuals on the streets at 1,263, followed by 336 in Brooklyn, 279 in the Bronx, 152 in Staten Island and 135 in Queens. On the street count includes unsheltered individuals found in the streets and parks, not subways. Some 1,141 unsheltered individuals were found in the subways.

About 1,700 volunteers walked a total of 8,291 miles and surveyed more than 1,000 subway cars to carry out the survey.

But advocates for the homeless people questions the accuracy of the survey figures. Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless said in March 5, 2008 issue of Metro newspaper that the figures do not reflect the actual number of unsheltered homeless people in the city. “Most street people do not sleep in visible locations.”

Eric Deutsch of DHS says not all panhandlers are homeless but his contention was challenged by Metro in the same issue saying a survey conducted by the daily in Union Square found every panhandler homeless.

Will the real homeless man on the street please stand up?

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Unsheltered Homeless People in New York City

February 18, 2008

20080106194744_staying_dry1.jpgphoto: jonathangreenwald.com

The Department of Homeless Services conducts an annual survey of homeless people living on the city streets and subways. Called “clients” in official parlance, these unsheltered homeless people are then placed in various drop in centers, transitional shelters or permanent housing depending on whether they wish to be sheltered or not. The survey results for 2007 documented 3,755 unsheltered homeless people, a 2 percent fall compared to 2006 results.

According to DHS surveys, the number of homeless people living on the streets, roaming in the subways, sleeping on park benches and putting up makeshift shelter underneath the city bridges continues to decline with 2006 survey registering a 13 percent fall compared to 2005 survey results which showed 4395 homeless people without shelters.

Determining the exact number of unsheltered homeless people is a difficult task fraught with risks of inaccuracies and duplication. Quoting Molly Heyman, a junior at NYU’s School of Social Work and president of Oxfam America at NYU, a January 31 news story on 2008 survey said the accuracy of the survey result was doubtful. Heyman contends that the annual survey is always done at night during winters so that the numbers are kept low.

On January 28, 2008 from midnight to 4 am, about 2,500 volunteers canvassed the streets, subways and parks in all five boroughs to survey the homeless people without shelters.

As one of the 2,500 volunteers for the 2008 survey, I think the risk of duplication and inaccuracy is a possibility. It so happened that the person I interviewed for the survey in the area assigned to my team would have been interviewed by another team in another area. The chances are I would be interviewing a person who had already been interviewed a few minutes or hours before by another team. To counter duplication, the DHS survey requires volunteers to describe unusual appearances about the interviewee, but then again it depends on the kind of observation a volunteer does which is subjective. Reality appears different to different people. Also the fact is not all homeless people spot outlandish tattoos or prominent scars.

Again, the volunteers cannot disturb those who are sleeping, so one never knows whether they are homeless or someone who forgot their way back home in drunken stupor. I saw a person sleeping in an ATM outlet few blocks down Bleecker Street. Another one was sleeping in the doorway of some shop in the same area.


Homeless People living in New York’s city shelters

February 6, 2008

The February 2007 figures from Department of Homeless Services says there are 34,465 homeless people living in municipal shelters in New York City. Among them, 13,790 are children followed by single men at 13,254. There are 5,355 adults in families which also includes single mothers. At 1,927, the share of homeless single women living in various homeless shelters is the lowest.

The DHS broadly defines homeless people into two categories: single adults and families. Single adults are further divided into three groups depending upon the nature of their homeless condition. Chronic and episodic cases are often associated with psychiatric disability, substance abuse and prison history, while transitional short-term cases are often associated with temporary unemployment. On the other hand, homeless families consists of single mothers with children; married or domestically partnered couples; parents with adult children; and adult siblings.

But the homeless advocacy groups have a slightly different set of statistics on homeless shelter population. The Coalition for the Homeless in its March 2007 figures says there are 35,113 homeless people sleeping in city shelters, an increase of 11.1 percent. The number of homeless families also rose by 17.6 percent; there are now 9,190 homeless families including single mothers sleeping in municipal shelters all around the city. These statistics released in a report titled State of the Homeless 2007 show an 18.1 percent jump in the the number of homeless children in February 2007 pushing the total figure to 14,219. In February 2007, the Department of Homeless Services reported an average of 9,287 families in the homeless shelters which, the Coalition report says, is a record high number of homeless families living in municipal shelters. A significant portion of the homeless families are headed by single mothers. Advocacy groups say over 60 percent of single mothers are victims of domestic violence.