Hundreds of volunteers and outreach workers fanned out across New York City’s streets, subways and public parks late Tuesday night for the annual street homeless count.
The yearly point-in-time count comes as a record number of people are residing in the city shelter systems, including 68,000 migrants. Unlike previous years, this year’s count comes as housing and immigrant advocates warned of an increase in migrant homelessness as they face restrictions imposed by Mayor Eric Adams on how long they can shelter in one place.
“I am interested to see if we see anything different tonight,” Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom said during a press briefing Tuesday when asked whether unsheltered migrants could increase the final count.
The survey, conducted at the same time every year, is required by the federal government and is meant to inform the city on where to steer resources and funds to help homeless individuals not in shelters.
“When we bring services to people instead of expecting them to go somewhere, it’s much more likely that they’re going to be willing to accept them because people are connected to communities,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park said in an interview.
As of Sunday, there were 89,000 adults and children, including some migrants, residing in shelters run by the Department of Homeless Services, city data shows. But that doesn’t include thousands of others who stay in shelters run by other city agencies or by the shelter system the Adams administration propped up for migrants.
Starting late Tuesday and into the early hours on Wednesday, 1,500 volunteers and 200 homeless outreach workers hit the five boroughs in the rain and during a Code Blue to conduct the snapshot survey.
Issa Asiedo, 42, outreach coordinator for BronxWorks, walked up and down residential and commercial streets looking under scaffolding and searching parks to tally up how many people had no place to sleep for the night.
“I feel like this is a test of the services and the resources that we have, right? If it’s working, then we should see less people. If it’s not, then maybe we should try something else,” he said, trudging down the corner of 224th Street and White Plains Road.
Asiedo checked his printed maps for the area that was assigned to him, and any person that appeared homeless was counted in the city’s app.
“If somebody’s in a blanket, on the floor or sleeping on a bench or stuff like that, those are the obvious cases where we know somebody is bedded down somewhere,” he said. He also looks for more discreet cases where he notices people hovering in the same place for a long time.
“People usually go from one place to another, they’re not really stationary. So that’s a sign that you might not have a place to go tonight,” he said.
Some critics say the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate or HOPE count has its limits.
The survey, the results of which are released in the summer, doesn’t count homeless people who shelter in bank vestibules, fast food restaurants or emergency rooms overnight, a criticism homeless advocates say keeps the tally artificially low.
Bonnie Mohan, co-founder and executive director of the Health & Housing Consortium, said her group has done a count of its own that’s not part of the official HOPE survey to help paint a fuller picture: The group counts the number of homeless people staying in emergency rooms.
“If they were not in hospitals, they’d most likely be in the street and counted,” she said. “It underscores that hospitals serve as de facto shelters, especially in the colder months.”
Mohan said her group hasn’t done its own number-crunching since 2020, when they estimated 226 people across 30 hospitals in four boroughs.
At around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, the streets in the Gun Hill area of the Bronx were largely empty and wet from the rain. Even a check of the subway yielded no additions to Asiedo’s count.
“It’s a good indication that people think that it’s cold, even though it’s not as cold. And so that they’re inside somewhere warm. So that’s a good thing,” Asiedo said.
David Brand contributed to this report.