New York City's shelter population hits record high as number of families experiencing homelessness rises

The number of people sleeping in shelters each nights reached 53,615 in January of 2013

Katie McDonough
March 12, 2014 6:22PM (UTC)

The number of people staying overnight in New York City shelters reached an all-time high in January, and the number of families and children experiencing homelessness is also on the rise, according to a new report.

The number of people sleeping in shelters each night reached 53,615 in January of 2013, according to the annual report by the Coalition for the Homeless.


Families entering the system for the first time increased by 12 percent, and the number of children sleeping in shelters increased by 8 percent. The average length of time a family spent in the shelter system also increased, stretching to a record 14.5 months.

As Nikita Stewart at the New York Times reports, the record numbers of people experiencing homelessness can be traced to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's policies on affordable housing, which forced many families into the shelter program:

In 2005, the Bloomberg administration stopped providing homeless people with Section 8 rent vouchers to become tenants in federally funded public housing. The city instead turned to short-term rent subsidies, which Ms. Brosnahan said had largely failed, creating a cycle in which recipients of those subsidies wind up homeless again each time they run out.

The [Coalition for the Homeless] is pushing for more permanent housing solutions, including a five-year rent subsidy. The coalition estimates that longer-term rent subsidies could cut the number of homeless families with children by 66 percent within four years.

The report also recommends helping at least 5,000 households each year by establishing a rental-assistance program funded by the city and state. And it recommends converting 3,000 low-income and moderate-income apartments, now used as short-term shelters, into affordable housing.

Advocates believe they may have a stronger ally in new Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has said affordable housing and addressing the urgency of homelessness in the city is a priority for his administration.


After reading the report, a City Hall spokeswoman commented Tuesday that the finding “highlights the need for additional housing resources," and that the administration would work with the coalition to implement policies to address these needs.

 While homelessness reaches crisis levels in New York City, a national trend of increased homelessness, including among young people, is equally alarming.

An annual report from the National Center for Homeless Education, found that 1.2 million students across the country were homeless at some point between 2011 and 2012, a 10 percent increase from the previous year and a 72 percent increase since 2007.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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