A rule requiring the city to provide shelter for unhoused people is being eroded as city officials claim local agencies can’t keep up with growing demand.
A longstanding ‘right to shelter’ mandate in New York City is slowly being rolled back in response to an influx of migrants seeking asylum, causing alarm among housing advocates who say the policy has been instrumental in keeping the city’s unsheltered population low, despite the high number of unhoused residents. Sarah Holder and Kriston Capps cover the story for Bloomberg CityLab.
“The city says that the mayor does not seek to end New York’s right to shelter, but rather is asking the court for relief, since no party could have imagined the current situation when the consent decree was signed four decades ago.” As of 2021, the city’s network of shelters can accommodate 65,000 people, making unsheltered homelessness in New York a fraction of what it is in other cities with high unhoused populations.
The administration says the city is now having a hard time fulfilling the obligations of the decree as more people arrive in the city seeking shelter. “Under the mandate, homeless families with children who arrive at a shelter before 10 p.m. must be given a shelter bed the same night they request one, and single adults must be taken in within a day.” The city says demand grew by 75 percent in the last year.
Some housing advocates say the policy does need to be updated to support the adoption of more modern solutions such as the ‘housing first’ approach. As it stands, Ann Oliva, CEO for the nonprofit National Alliance to End Homelessness, says “the city is wedded to funding shelters at the expense of more permanent solutions.”
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