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A tale of two cities

February 01 2023
New York by night. © the Pavement New York by night. © the Pavement

The similarities and differences in homeless policy in New York and London. With a view to what comes next. By Eric Protein Moseley

In the late 1990s, I remember relocating to New York for the first time as a single-parent homeless drug addict, trying to provide a better life for my daughter Erica than I'd had so far. Together, we got off the greyhound bus at Port Authority and soon entered the city shelter system in the Bronx, New York. After residing at several locations for approximately eight months, we eventually got an apartment in Brooklyn, East New York. Today, the wait for a homeless family to receive housing in the Big Apple has become much longer and more humiliating.
The latest Mayors’ Management Report shows that families with children spent an average of 534 days, or almost 18 months, in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) care during the 2022 financial year, completed in June. Following decades of failed policy strategies the number of men, women and children living in homeless shelters stands at around 60,000.

Today, New Yorkers in the shelter system face countless hardships in getting into permanent housing because rents are at record highs, and the accessibility of units estimated for low-income rent occupants is at a decades-old low. The city saves just a few of its affordable units explicitly for low-income renters, contributing to the rise of homelessness in New York City.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, New York's plans to combat homelessness were:
1. Providing low-cost housing in conjunction with supportive services to create permanent supportive housing, such as medical care and counselling.
2. Making one-time funds available, such as government funds for rapid rehousing.
3. Creating Non-congregate housing, which entails placing homeless people in hotels.

Across the pond in London, The Combined Homeless and Information Network (CHAIN) shows a rise in rough sleeping across London, with 2,998 people sleeping rough from April to June 2022,  up 16% on the same period in 2021.

Projects supported and initiated by London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to reduce homelessness in the city have included:
1. A recently renovated No Second Night Out service, offering people sleeping rough assistance in a safe environment.
2. Creating expert multidisciplinary psychological wellness groups in NHS Trusts, with a focus on homeless people.
3. Establishing a dedicated administration that responds quickly to StreetLink references to ensure people receive assistance as soon as possible.

The invasion of Russia in Ukraine will also contribute to the growing number of homelessness in both London and New York. An estimated 50,000 Ukrainian refugees in the UK could become homeless this year, and ministers are resisting offering a new package of support to offset the impending crisis.

While the shelter system in New York is struggling to house arrivals from Ukraine, New York City mayor Eric Adams is considering erecting hangar-sized tents as temporary shelters for thousands of migrants experiencing homelessness.
In my opinion, both London and New York already had a problem finding solutions to rising homelessness before the displacement of people because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the war ending in Ukraine nowhere in sight, I suggest both locations should expect and plan for more people to come to their cities, not as tourists but as people looking to find a permanent place to live, like many others who were already homeless before they arrived.

  • Eric Moseley is a New York-based social impact documentary film-maker