With the number of homeless people in New York City reaching an all-time high, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a five-year plan in February to reduce homelessness and provide better services by opening 90 new shelters and expanding 30 existing ones. As the de Blasio administration rolls out the plan, where the city decides to put the additional shelters has grown contentious.
The city’s primary shelter system is a patchwork of dormitories, family shelters, commercial hotel rooms and apartments in private buildings known as cluster apartments. Under the mayor’s plan, new and expanded shelters are to replace the hotel rooms and apartments that are scattered throughout 360 different sites across the city.
The primary goal of the de Blasio administration is to house homeless people in the communities in which they became homeless, and it has chosen to use the boundaries of the city’s 59 community districts to determine where shelters should be placed.
Mr. de Blasio said he believed homeless people were better positioned to find permanent housing if they were placed in shelters close to neighborhood anchors, like schools, churches, jobs and relatives.
Right now, some community districts shoulder a large concentration of homeless shelters, and residents — including those who have sued the city unsuccessfully — have questioned why the de Blasio administration chose community districts. The answer is this: Some neighborhoods share ZIP codes but are in different community districts, and it is through districts, not neighborhoods, that city services are generally delivered.
Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president, has argued that someone who becomes homeless in working-class Crown Heights could live in a shelter in nearby, wealthier Park Slope without feeling displaced.
The mayor’s plan runs counter to efforts by the City Council to improve “fair share” laws aimed at distributing amenities and social services equitably throughout the city. And in a city that is already deeply segregated, neighborhood shelters are likely to be segregated as well.
So far, only five new shelters have opened, and they set off controversy, especially in Crown Heights. The administration recently announced sites for two more shelters in the Bronx but has not said where the rest will go. Here are some of the factors they might consider.
Currently, the city’s poorest areas have more shelter space than they need to house those who became homeless nearby.
Areas with fewer poor people, often adjacent to the poorest areas, tend to have fewer shelters than needed.
Many people become homeless in areas that have no shelters.
Some areas, including parts of Staten Island, northeast Queens and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, produce homelessness but have no shelters at all. And they could be selected as locations for new shelters under the mayor’s plan. Staten Island has more than 1,200 homeless people, but only one shelter with space for 135 residents.
Areas that currently house the homeless in hotels and cluster apartments will need more shelters.
These are areas where existing shelter beds would be overwhelmed by the administration’s plan to move everyone out of apartments and hotels.