Average stays in NYC homeless shelters are the shortest in a decade due to migrants

Homeless New Yorkers are spending fewer days in city-run shelters on average than in the last decade, an analysis by Gothamist shows.

Families with children and adult families residing in Department of Homeless Services shelters saw the sharpest declines in the last 12 months of available data compared to the prior year, city shelter data shows. Stays for families with kids dropped 25% in the last year, 33% for adult families and 9% for single adults.

Gothamist analyzed data detailing average monthly shelter stays from July 2014 through April of this year — the most recently available data. The data was released through the Mayor’s Management Report, a kind of report card on city services.

Single adults spent around two-and-a-half weeks less in shelter in April 2024 compared to April 2023. Adult families spent seven months less in shelter in the same time frame while families with children spent about a month less in shelter this April compared to 2023.

The stats also show that families with children spent an average of 353 days in homeless shelters from May 2023 to April 2024, a 23% drop from the 12 months before.

The average monthly stay for adult families, or families without children who are minors, dropped 32% to 533 days in the same time period. For single adults, the average monthly stay decreased 9% to 390 days.

City officials and homeless advocates are largely attributing the recent drop to new migrant arrivals. Thousands of migrants entered the shelter system in the last two years — and in some cases, they are leaving quickly. The city says it’s also helping more people exit homeless shelters and move into permanent housing than in previous years.

“People didn’t travel all the way to New York City through the type of horrific stories we’ve heard about what they’ve gone through to get here because they want to live in shelters,” said Dave Giffen, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit helping homeless New Yorkers.

“These numbers are showing that people come here, they need some time to settle in and recover from their journey and they want to get out of the shelters. They want to find places to live. They want to become members of the community.”

The drop in average shelter stays comes as Mayor Eric Adams has contended with a record number of people in the shelter system and an unexpected surge in new arrivals that his administration said is fraying the city’s already tenuous safety net systems. In response to the tens of thousands of new migrants, New York City rolled back its long-standing right-to-shelter rules in March by capping stays for migrant adults.

Despite the shorter stays, it still takes New Yorkers nearly a year or longer to exit emergency housing, which homeless services providers say is too long.

Officials with the Department of Homeless Services said many factors contribute to how long New Yorkers remain in shelter, including the private housing market, each client’s needs, the availability of subsidized housing and the influx of asylum-seekers.

Nicholas Jacobelli, a DHS spokesperson, said the pandemic momentarily slowed the flow of people into homeless shelters because an eviction moratorium kept people at home and other government benefits assisted those in need. But when those protections expired, more people entered homeless shelters as migrants coming to the United States also sought temporary housing, which drove down the average length of stays because more people entered the system at one time.

Jacobelli said the city moved 20% more people out of shelter and into housing from the start of the fiscal year last July through April, largely because of housing vouchers known as CityFHEPS. He said DHS is also targeting long-term shelter residents, particularly those with medical issues, to find them housing placements.

For the last two years, Adams and his administration have decried the federal government for not providing the city sufficient resources and support to handle the influx of new arrivals, which prompted the city to house migrants in pop-up shelters and hotels. Migrant shelters not under DHS are not captured in the data.

The city’s recent right-to-shelter court settlement allows officials to deny shelter to adult migrants after a 30- or 60-day stay starting this May, but the effects of the new agreement aren’t yet reflected in the city data, which runs through April.

Giffen, of Coalition for the Homeless, said the stats showing people are in homeless shelters for less time is proof that migrants aren’t looking to stay under the city’s care for long.

“All of this does, to some extent, fly in the face of the city’s assertions that the new arrivals have been coming to New York City and just wanting to stay indefinitely in the shelter system,” Giffen said. “They do not want to stay in the shelter system.”

While Giffen credited the city for increasing the number of shelter residents getting permanent housing, he said the administration needs to do more since the number of shelter exits has historically been low. Giffen said the Adams administration needs to establish resettlement plans to help migrants find housing, create more housing opportunities and stop blocking the expansion of CityFHEPS vouchers for low-income residents as required by a new City Council law.

“It’s still an obscene amount of time for anybody to have to stay in a shelter,” Giffen said. “The city definitely has it within its power to make the length of stay for all who are in shelters shorter.”

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