Last year, the percentage of New York City families deemed eligible to live in homeless shelters dropped to its lowest point during the de Blasio administration, according to recently released city-data.
The city has always investigated whether families who apply for shelter are truly homeless, and even in normal times, they reject a high number of applications. In November of 2014, during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first year in office, the city determined that 50.2% of the families with children that applied were eligible.
But last November, 500 out of the 1,900 families who applied, or 26.1%, were deemed eligible. (In December, according to data updated Wednesday, that rate rose slightly to 27.9%.) Currently, 9,800 families live in NYC shelters.
Homeless families have been able to remain in shelters during the pandemic even when rejected because of a special rule instituted by the city. However, advocates say families who have been rejected remain in limbo, unsure how long they’ll be able to stay and unable to qualify for the subsidies normally offered to homeless families.
“This is at a time when the need is greatest, and we understand and know that access to safe space is of utmost importance,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless. “We cannot claim victory until families are actually given this the safety net that they need and moved into permanent affordable housing.”
Advocates and city officials disagree about why fewer applicants are getting accepted. When they apply for shelter, families must submit documentation showing all the places they’ve lived over the last two years. Routhier said it’s been harder for people to obtain those documents during the pandemic.
“The city is just applying a strict standard at a time when they need to be loosening their standards,” she told Gothamist.
Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said that’s not what’s happening. These days eviction moratoriums are in place, so fewer people are losing their homes.
“The number of families seeking shelter is at an all-time low,” he said.
Instead of many new families coming through the system, like they do during normal times, Banks said the same families apply again and again even though they have been rejected.
“The eligibility rate reflects the fact that individuals who are in the shelter system and not being asked to leave are continuing to reapply,” he said.
The city didn’t provide data to back that up, but in a statement said it is “wholly inaccurate” to say they are “turning away more families.”
Last year, Carmen Molina, 37, was staying with a relative who was subletting an apartment, but then they all had to leave. In December, she came to the intake center in the Bronx with her seven-year-old daughter, Yeira. The city placed Molina in a shelter in Eastchester in the Bronx.
“It’s clean, it’s well run, the security are very courteous, and they learn your name,” she said. “They always try to help with what you need.”
But the city told Molina she’s actually ineligible for shelter. And they’ve made that determination not just once, but six times in less than two months. Molina has continued reapplying.
“I’m continuing, because I know that eventually I’ll provide the proof that DHS [Department of Homeless Services] is requiring, and, more importantly, we need a place,” she said.