By Deborah Berkman and Josiah Haken
New York Daily News
The number of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. While a robust shelter system is an important part of the emergency response to any homelessness crisis, New York City’s shelter system is complex and troubled. It mostly houses single adults in common congregate environments, with multiple cots in a room and shared living spaces. As a result, thousands sleep on the street, in subways, and in public spaces because these environments feel safer than shelters. While this may feel like a nuisance to New Yorkers who are housed, we have left our neighbors with few viable alternatives.
The vast majority of people sleeping outside do so as a result of significant trauma that has occurred in their lives or that they personally experienced or witnessed within New York City’s congregate shelters: from being assaulted, witnessing gang violence, being threatened, and being robbed, to being forced to fight or sell drugs on behalf of others in exchange for safety.