Service providers have urged the city to hire more workers to help move people more quickly out of shelter or public spaces and into permanent housing.
New York City’s homeless services agency would see a fifth of its operating budget and 131 unfilled positions slashed under Mayor Eric Adams’ $98 billion spending plan, even as a new aggressive effort to drive unhoused New Yorkers out of the subway system gets underway.
Adams’ first preliminary budget, released Wednesday, would lower Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spending from around $2.8 billion to $2.15 billion in the 2023 fiscal year, due mostly to the loss of about $500 million in COVID-related federal funding allocated to the agency, budget documents show. The city would also direct less money to adult shelters in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
DHS trimmed a combined $109 million this fiscal year and next as part of Adams’ Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) cost-cutting mandate. The bulk of the PEG savings come from the move to end the use of commercial hotels for families with children, a goal the city fulfilled last year. DHS will also cut 131 positions that it said were budgeted for but never assigned to a specific program area. In addition, the agency re-estimated the cost of faith-based shelters—some of which closed—and shelter repairs to achieve additional savings, but said the PEG cuts will not result in loss of services.
Adams announced his budget proposal two days before launching the latest phase of a crackdown on New Yorkers staying in the transit system, with social service and health agencies working in conjunction with the NYPD and a pledge to provide new support resources.
“No more just doing whatever you want. Those days are over,” Adams said at a press conference Friday. “The system was not made to be housing. It’s made to be transportation.”
Under his “Subway Safety Plan,” police would ramp up enforcement of violations like sleeping in a subway car, and agencies would pursue mandatory outpatient treatment for people with mental illness. The plan would also add extra outreach teams, new drop-in centers and “increase availability” of nearly 500 SafeHaven and stabilization beds—accommodations intended for street homeless New Yorkers that provide more privacy and feature fewer restrictions than congregate shelters—at some point this year. In brief remarks Friday, Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins said the SafeHavens and stabilization spaces were “new beds,” but did not provide specifics.
Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who also spoke at the press conference Friday, did not detail the costs of the new programs and facilities.
The initiative includes the goal of “streamlining the placement process” for supportive housing and “reducing the amount of paperwork it takes to apply.” City officials said Friday that they were still working out the details on how to reduce the administrative burden.
Service providers have urged the city to hire more workers in DHS and the Human Resources Administration, the two agencies that make up the Department of Social Services, to accelerate moves out of shelter or public spaces and into permanent housing. A recent survey by the Supportive Housing Network of New York found a 10 percent vacancy rate among its members, an issue the organization blamed on hiring freezes and a lack of staff capacity. Supportive housing providers also frequently reject applicants with the greatest mental health needs, like people staying in public spaces.
Homeless Services United Executive Director Catherine Trapani, whose organization represents service providers, said streamlining the process to get into supportive housing is “really welcome news.”
“The current procedures are complicated and involve several different assessments that can be hard to assemble and obtain, but if we all agree that clients need the housing then we should just give it to them,” Trapani said.
But eliminating positions and cutting spending at DHS to pre-pandemic levels could hinder the efforts to speed up the housing process, advocates said. Budget documents show a proposed DHS staff reduction from 2,374 this fiscal year to 1,993 workers in 2023.
“There’s no question this is an austere budget and we’re pushing back against cuts to health and human services across the board,” said HousingWorks CEO Charles King, whose organization runs shelters, supportive housing sites and mental health services across the city.
The subway crackdown, which Adams and Hochul first launched Jan. 6, has also faced fierce criticism for its emphasis on policing.
“Forcing people off the trains into the freezing cold does not help the homeless,” said Peter Malvan, an organizer with the group Safety Net Project. “Policing does not get people safely housed.”
Adams’ approach to addressing homelessness has so far centered on the visible, but relatively small number of people staying on the streets and subways, especially in the wake of murders—a woman pushed in front of an incoming train and another woman stalked and stabbed to death inside her apartment—allegedly committed by homeless men. The attacks have fueled a perception of danger and disarray underground that has discouraged some New Yorkers from returning to the subway system.
His presentation on the preliminary budget plan framed homelessness through the lens of gun violence and tent encampments. Unhoused New Yorkers and their advocates have urged him to commit to more spending on programs for housing families—who make up the majority of the city’s homeless population—and moving people out of shelters.
Roughly 47,000 people—more than 14,500 of them children—stay in New York City homeless shelters each night, with more than 60,000 New Yorkers in shelter at some point in December 2021, according to the most recent data tracked by City Limits.
“Families with children continue to make up the largest share of New York’s City’s homeless population yet, Mayor Adams did not mention how he plans to address the city’s family homelessness crisis or affordable housing shortage during his FY23 Preliminary Budget announcement,” said the Family Homelessness Coalition (a City Limits funder) in a statement following release of the budget.
The ultimate goal of the subway plan is to move homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing, Adams said. Hochul on Friday discussed committing more money to develop new supportive housing, which provide vital on-site services for people with mental illness but take years to plan, finance, develop and finally open.
The city’s housing agencies would see a modest boost under Adams’ budget proposal, but still a far cry from his campaign commitment to fund housing with $4 billion in the budget.
The capital budget for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) would mirror the total allocated by Adams’ predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, with $1.7 billion proposed for 2023 followed by $1.5 billion in 2024 and $1.3 billion in 2025.
The NYCHA budget would also maintain de Blasio’s proposed spending levels, with $587 million in 2023, $597 million in 2024 and $657 million in 2025.
New York Housing Conference Executive Director Rachel Fee, who stood beside Adams last month as he announced the appointment of new housing agency heads, said her organization was “extremely disappointed” in Adams’ spending plan.
“Unfortunately, he has failed to take action as mayor on a policy he called ‘smart’ as a candidate simply because of self-imposed budgetary constraints — and it is vulnerable New Yorkers who will suffer the consequences,” Fee said.