Discounting NYC Homelessness

Last night the City mobilized its annual “count” of street homeless people – a flawed exercise that has only served to misinform the public about the true scale of the homelessness crisis in New York City.

As we wrote last year, and in a briefing paper available here, there are numerous flaws in the City’s annual HOPE survey — we’ve highlighted the major problems below. For instance, the survey fails to account for homeless people sleeping in non-visible locations, which researchers say make up some 40 percent of the unsheltered homeless population. But most troubling, the City conducts the annual HOPE survey like a PR extravaganza, complete with trailing TV news crews, and therefore further confuses the general public into thinking that the survey and its resulting “guesstimate” are an actual count.

The bottom line is that City officials’ spin from the annual survey – that street homelessness is sharply down – sharply contrasts with what most New Yorkers see and what front-line service providers report. Street homelessness has become more and more visible in recent years, and soup kitchens and other emergency services are seeing more and more unsheltered homeless people seeking help.

Major Flaws of the Annual HOPE Survey

• The HOPE survey is an estimate, not a count — a fact that the City’s public relations strategy obscures.

• The City has refused to reveal how many homeless people are actually counted each year, NOT the “guesstimate.”

• The survey fails to count homeless people in non-visible locations — researchers think that some 40 percent of street homeless people sleep in non-visible locations.

• The survey has failed to adjust for obvious survey errors.

• Changing weather and other conditions make it impossible to compare one HOPE estimate with another.

• There are questions about whether the NYPD increases enforcement actions against street homeless people in the days leading up to the survey.

• The City’s claim that homelessness decreased in 2009, during the first year of the economic recession (and not so coincidentally, a NYC election year), is simply not credible.

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