Since January 2022, City Limits has been compiling and publishing daily and monthly data on the number of people staying in New York City’s homeless shelter system, using the most complete figures available.
Read more about this project here. Notes on our methodology can be found below, or by clicking here. This tracker was overhauled in December 2023 to better reflect the city’s updated data collection and reporting methods; the previous version can be found here.
By Patrick Spauster, Adrian Nesta & Emma Whitford
The above chart is generated automatically from monthly data published under Local Law 37 of 2011 and Local Law 79 of 2022. The city unveiled a new format for reporting this information beginning in May 2023, and only began including data for recently-arrived immigrants in its Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers (HERRCs) in October 2023, reflecting data for August 2023.*
With some exceptions, data in the Local Law 79 reports is unduplicated, meaning a person is only counted once if they check into a particular type of shelter multiple times in one month. However, a person can be counted more than once if they move around—for example, from a Red Cross-supported Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) hotel shelter to an HPD Family Living Center.
Duplicates are not excluded from the Local Law 79 counts for drop-in centers run by DHS and the Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD)—which offer food, showers and case management services, but not assigned beds—or DHS faith beds. In these cases, people who check in multiple times in a month are counted more than once. The HERRC data is a point-in-time census from the last day of the reporting month.
This count is the best approximation of the total number of people in shelter, but it’s only issued once a month and on a delay. For example, the report issued in December provided data for October.
Tens of thousands of immigrants have arrived in New York City since the spring of 2022. While not all of these new arrivals are seeking asylum, City Limits will use the term, as it corresponds to the city’s terminology.
The city began publishing data on asylum seekers in its shelter system in July 2023. Some of those individuals are also counted in Dept. of Homeless Services (DHS) and Local Law 79 tallies, but these reports provide more detailed data, including a breakdown by operating agency: DHS, NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation (HHC), HPD, NYC Emergency Management (NYCEM) and DYCD.
The data, published by the City Council, also shows that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers in New York City are part of families with children. City Limits will update these charts monthly as new data becomes available.
Only DHS reports the number of people staying in its shelters nightly. The full population in DHS shelters is buried in a PDF on the city’s website, which is overwritten each night. City Limits scrapes this data each day to tabulate a more accurate total, including specialized programs, with possible gaps if two reports are posted in the same 24 hour period.*
In addition to the overall DHS population, the following charts track DHS household types in more detail.
Beyond its traditional shelters, thousands of single adults stay in specialized programs run by DHS. These include Safe Haven shelters with fewer restrictions for people living in public spaces, special veteran programs, drop-in centers, “faith beds” run by houses of worship and housing for people transitioning out of jail and prison. Data on these smaller programs is often reported less consistently.
*An earlier version of this post implied that gaps in the daily DHS census could only be attributed to a failure to report. The post has also been updated to correct the first month in which the city began including HERRCs in its LL79 reports; it was October, not September. City Limits regrets the errors.
Notes and Methodology
The data presented in this tracker is available for public use with attribution and is available on GitHub. These data and charts are automatically updated on a daily or monthly basis as new data becomes available. This page will also be updated on a rolling basis to reflect clarifications about, or changes to, the city’s data reporting methods. For example, we have adjusted our reporting for the monthly population chart, which initially did not include specialized DHS beds for adults, based on additional information from City Hall. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to report an error.
Daily data on the number of people in DHS shelter is scraped daily from PDFs on the city’s website, compiled into tabular data, and available in full time series since January 2022 on GitHub. Daily totals in DHS shelters include the total individuals in DHS shelters, plus single adults in the following programs: overnight drop-in centers, faith beds, Safe Havens, and veterans in short-term housing. The total excludes criminal justice short-term housing beds as a distinct category, as they were subsumed into the general DHS shelter census beginning sometime during 2022. Prior to the change, our numbers may slightly undercount the shelter population by not including criminal justice short-term housing beds.
Daily counts for individual DHS programs from daily census PDFs are presented here with some imputations for missing data and outliers removed.
Daily counts for family composition in DHS shelters also include single adults in overnight drop-in centers, faith beds, Safe Havens, and veteran programs.
Daily historical data on the number of families with children in DHS shelters are pulled from the NYC Open Data Portal.
Monthly agency counts are presented here with some imputations for missing data and outliers removed. Monthly data on shelter population across agencies comes from the NYC Open Data portal datasets for temporary housing assistance usage, including both the Local Law 37 dataset for data through April 2023 and Local Law 79 dataset for data from May 2023 onward. Between datasets, field names change slightly. Before May 2023 the city reported “total number of unduplicated individuals” using temporary housing for most agencies unless otherwise specified. From May 2023 onwards the city reports the “total number of individuals using city-administered facilities.”
We present these data together in a time-series, flagging when reporting changes occurred. For most agencies in the Local Law 79 reports, we pull totals for children, single adults and adults in families in the first row labeled "Toal number of individuals utilizing city-administered facilities." DHS is an exception, as the first row does not encompass agency sub-systems, which we count separately: DHS Safe Havens, stabilization beds, veteran shelters, drop-in centers and faith-based facilities.
In general, the “total number of individuals using city-administered facilities” field is an unduplicated count of shelter users. However, there are a few exceptions called out in the Local Law 79 reports: DYCD drop-in center totals, individuals using DHS drop-in centers, and individuals using faith based facilities are not unduplicated. A person can also be counted multiple times if they use multiple types of shelter within one agency system in a single month. City Limits does limited imputation for missing data and corrects select data entry errors. The city does not report the exact figure for categories with numbers less than 10. In those cases we take the conservative estimate of zero.
The new report, Local Law 79, includes additional agency shelter populations from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In October 2023, it included data on individuals in Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, operated by various agencies, including NYC Health + Hospitals (HHC), Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), HPD-Houses of Worship (HOW), New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM), Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) and Hotel Association of New York City (HANYC) hotels. HERRC counts are presented as a single series, and are a point-in-time snapshot, not a monthly census. The sums of individual categories do not always match the summary table that leads the Local Law 79 report pdf. City Limits reports the sum of agency reported numbers and removes counts for Justice Involved Supportive Housing operated through DOHMH, which are supportive apartments, not shelters.
Data on asylum seekers comes from the City Council’s Asylum Seekers report PDFs on the City Council budget page, beginning in July 2023. These reports are manually inputted to create the charts seen here, but may be automated in the future as the city standardizes their reporting format.
This project was generously supported by the Altman Foundation.