A new audit by NYC Comptroller Brad Lander found that the Adams Administration’s homeless sweeps failed to meet their goals and proposes that NYC establish a large-scale “Housing First” program instead. On June 28, 2023, City Comptroller Brad Lander released an audit of NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS)’s role in the Adams Administration’s sweeps of homeless encampment sites between March and November 2022. The audit found that the sweeps failed to meet their primary goal of connecting homeless individuals with services.
During these sweeps, DHS outreach participated in the forcible removal of 2,308 people from encampments around the city. The audits found that only 119 people had accepted temporary shelter, of which 90 people stayed in shelters for more than one day. As of January 23, 2023, only 47 people of the 90 remained in shelters, and only three people secured permanent housing.
The sweeps also largely failed to achieve their secondary goal of eliminating encampments. On April 12, 2023, the Comptroller’s auditors visited 99 identified locations where the task force swept in 2022 and found that people rebuilt encampments at 31 sites.
In response, the Comptroller’s office proposes that the City establish a large-scale “Housing First” program that provides permanent housing without first requiring individuals to enter shelters or graduate through a series of programs or services. In support of the proposition, Comptroller Lander published a policy review of “Housing First” policies around the country, evidencing that 70 to 90 percent of Housing First participants remain stably housed between two to three years after receiving services, compared to 30 to 50 percent of participants in traditional “treatment first” programs and just 0.1 percent of those in the City’s homeless sweeps.
The report looks at case studies from Denver, Philadelphia, and New York’s own Housing First model targeting veteran homelessness, which combined federal housing choice vouchers with case management and support services to decline veteran homelessness by 90 percent from 2011–2022.
Furthermore, the Comptroller’s office’s analysis also demonstrates the program’s economic benefits, noting that the daily cost of housing individuals in supportive housing is significantly less than shelters, prisons, and hospitals. An individual in supportive housing costs approximately $68 per day, compared to $136 per day in a shelter, $1,414 per day in jail at a Rikers detention center, and $3,609 per day in a hospital.
NYC recently began a small “Street-to-Housing” pilot, which draws on Housing First principles and seeks to connect up to 80 homeless adults with supportive housing. The program, operated by Volunteers of America Greater New York, has shown more success than the encampment sweeps, with 58 people moved in and 23 having signed a permanent lease as of April 25th.
The Comptroller’s office made the following recommendations: End sweeps targeting homelessness and instead rely on professionals to conduct outreach, provide resources, and connect people to low-barrier housing options; invest in the expansion of single rooms in Safe Haven shelters and stabilization beds; and improve and expand the City’s Housing First programs. The Comptroller recommended the City set aside ten percent of supportive housing units for Housing First participants.
Comptroller Lander stated, “A decade ago, the City of New York piloted Housing First policies to get homeless veterans into stable housing with remarkable success, reducing veteran homelessness to almost none. With a Housing First approach to street homelessness, combined with upholding the right-to-shelter, New York City could dramatically reduce street homelessness. The city that never sleeps should aspire to have no one sleep on the street.”
Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Griffin stated, “Mayor Adams needs to face the facts evidenced in this report: criminalizing homeless New Yorkers and sweeping unsheltered individuals out of sight is not only deeply inhumane, it is also demonstrably counterproductive. The only solution to homelessness is housing, and the Housing First model is proven to work.”
By: Dylan Shusterman (Dylan is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2025.)