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A sign directs people to the entrance of a Department of Homeless Services-run shelter.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Homelessness: Trends to Watch for the Future of NYC

The number of families in shelters has plummeted, while single adults seek shelter in near-record numbers.

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The start of 2022 marks a point of transition between Bill de Blasio’s eight years in charge of New York City and the arrival of Mayor Eric Adams. A mostly new City Council just took office.

THE CITY is giving New York City a checkup by tracking its vital signs year by year on health, poverty, crime, housing, environment, homelessness, transportation and education, showing progress through de Blasio’s terms in office into the pandemic — and the stage set for Adams.

The pandemic has been harsh for homeless New Yorkers — but their numbers have been shrinking, Department of Homeless Services statistics show.

The state eviction freezes imposed during the COVID pandemic helped former Mayor Bill de Blasio end his administration with an 11% decline in the sheltered homeless population since he took office — not long after reaching an all-time high of 62,000 in 2019.

That drop was entirely driven by families leaving the shelter system, in some cases because the city paid to turn shelters into permanent affordable housing. 

Advocates warn that the number of people living in the city’s shelters is likely to go up with the eviction moratorium set to expire on Jan. 15. 

THE CITY has reported that New York may not extend the eviction freeze, putting potentially tens of thousands of tenants at risk of losing their apartments in the city after years of progress shrinking eviction numbers.

“During the pandemic, we have had various eviction moratoriums that have amplified the reduction in evictions,” said Jacquelyn Simone, a policy director with the Coalition of the Homeless. 

“All of that might reverse once those protections are lifted.”

The family shelter system shrank in part because de Blasio turned more than 1,200 “cluster” shelter units into permanent housing by buying out the shelter operators, as part of his “Turning the Tide” plan. In all, the Department of Social Services closed or repurposed 3,650 cluster units, THE CITY reported. 

As of last week, about 45,300 people slept in city shelters, including 16,500 single adults and 14,600 children –– but the numbers reported by the DHS don’t give the full scope of homelessness, as these exclude people in other facilities, such as faith-based, youth centers and overnight drop-in centers.

The data also excludes around 4,000 New Yorkers who sleep on the street each night. 

Simone noted an increase in the length of time families stay in shelters before they exit — and says it highlights the lack of affordable housing. 

In the year that ended June 30, 2021, families had stayed more than 500 days on average in shelters before they were placed in some kind of permanent dwelling. 

“It shows that once people become homeless, it’s very challenging for them to access permanent housing. The challenge has been impeded by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failure to connect his homelessness and his housing policies,” said Simone.

The first thing Mayor Eric Adams could do is to “rethink the administrative structure for homelessness and housing policies,” she urged.

Check out the rest of the CITY stats columns here.

Read our coverage on homelessness and evictions