Family Homelessness Continues to Grow in New York City, Study Finds

Twelve thousand families entered the New York City shelter system in FY 2015, a 23 percent increase over the previous year, a new report from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness finds.

According to the report, On the Map: The Dynamics of Family Homelessness, the number of families with children entering the shelter system increased 33 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2015, with more than a quarter of the citywide increase coming from just six neighborhoods. More than half of all families in the system had to apply more than once, and 29 percent at least three times, before being found eligible for shelter, while between July 2014 and December 2015, the number of families in hotel shelter units grew twice as fast as the number in Tier II shelters, which are designed to return families to permanent housing and have on-site caseworkers to help with apartment or employment searches and child care. The study also found that in FY 2015, half of all families exited shelter with no form of housing subsidy; that one in five of those families returned to shelter within one year; and that the number of families overall who returned to shelter within thirty days of exiting doubled, from a thousand in FY 2014 to two thousand in FY 2015.

The study also notes that 25 percent of families in shelter in December 2015 first entered the system prior to 2002, while 45 percent entered between 2002 and 2014. To address the increase in chronic housing instability, the report outlines a range of policy considerations, including better supporting families before, during, and after homelessness with adult education and job training; leveraging shelters as community resource centers for families who are at risk of homelessness as well as homeless families; streamlining the shelter application process to minimize trauma and school absences for children; and tailoring existing community resources to address local factors driving homelessness and housing instability.

"For over three decades, government responses to homelessness have been focused on housing, but homelessness isn't just about the need for housing," said Ralph da Costa Nunez, president and CEO of the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. "It is about a family's ability to maintain their housing. Over half of all homeless families have not completed high school and only one in five have any meaningful work experience. They lack the education and job skills necessary to support their families, let alone their housing. Others are the victims of domestic violence or have mental health issues and substance abuse problems, which must be addressed before they can move on to a stable housing situation."

"On the Map: The Dynamics of Family Homelessness in New York City 2017." Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness Report 04/20/2017.