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HOPE Homeless Outreach Survey Shows NYC Homelessness Down, Critics Disagree

HOPE 2019: Catholic Charities File Photo


by John-Mark de Palma

4 Min Read: On a frigid 28-degree night in January, volunteers and city workers took to the streets and subways of the five boroughs to count the homeless as part of the federally-mandated HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) survey. Along with 4,200 volunteers, Catholic Charities of New York staffers canvassed the city in search of New York’s homeless in an effort to count them and offer services to individuals without a place to call home.  The 2019 count revealed that 3,588 people were on the streets that night, down from 3,675 in 2018 and down from 3,892 in 2017. According to city officials, homelessness was down across the boroughs by 20% to 30%, except for The Bronx, seeing only a 3% decline. 


Despite the year-over-year decrease in the number of people on the street, the HOPE survey has come under criticism from some homeless advocates for being a limited and inaccurate measurement of the homeless population.  The cold weather experienced the night of the survey may have contributed to the 23% increase of homeless individuals who sought shelter in the subway systems, a point acknowledged by DHS officials in their report.  

“Advocates across the city agree that the HOPE count is likely an undercount regardless of the weather, given the ability of homeless New Yorkers to make themselves blend in and not readily apparent on the streets,” said Áine Duggan, president of Partnership for the Homeless, “On a cold night, that problem is obviously exacerbated, because they will try to find temporary shelter with a friend or a neighbor, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are homeless.” 

Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst from the Coalition for the Homeless, told Curbed that “The methodology by which the city attempts to estimate the number of people who are unsheltered is fundamentally flawed—they’re not literally counting every single person.” She continued, “When you recognize the limitations in the methodology, particularly because it is a point-in-time count, once a year, in a particularly cold night, the tendency to look too deeply into something like a 2 percent decrease, can be a bit overblown.” However, Simone acknowledges the importance of outreach. “What we really need to do to dramatically reduce the number of people who are sleeping on the streets...increasing pathways to permanent housing for people.” 

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities New York, an agency that provides services to the homeless population in New York from rehabilitation services to transitional and permanent housing options, comments that the count is “important to understanding the overall homeless crisis in the five boroughs. We work with people who are on the street and we have some very temporary shelters that we work with and we have affordable housing. We can tell you that affordable housing — should be the permanent goal for every New Yorker. It’s better that there are more people in shelters than on the street, but it’s much, much better when people have a permanent apartment to live in.” 

Catholic Charities provides emergency and temporary shelter to individuals in need. Learn more about our emergency programs

You can also learn more about the assistance programs at Catholic Charities of New York, including Feeding Our Neighbors, soup kitchens, and food pantries.  

Our family of 90 affiliate Catholic Charities agencies also offer a wide variety of assistance and programs though Catholic Charities Community Services


Related Content: 

Islands of Desolation: HOPE Homeless Count 2019 | Catholic Charities New York 

Survey says number of NYC’s unsheltered homeless is down, but advocates disagree | NY Curbed 
14 percent of the nation's homeless population are in New York City | Metro New York 

Count, Canvass & Listen to a Special Panel Discussion on NYC's Homeless: Join Us for HOPE 2019 | Catholic Charities New York 

Could cold temps be an issue for NYC's annual homeless survey? | Metro New York 

Tattered Suitcases & Threadbare Comforters | Catholic Charities New York