The Partnership for the Homeless

Solving Street Homelessness - A response to the New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “City Officials Reaching Out to Homeless” (news article, Sept. 3):

By now, it’s surely confounding that our city does not have a grasp of why people are living on our streets — and how to reach them. After more than three decades, we should certainly understand the problem.

For too long, we’ve focused on individuals — and their moral failure — as the source of the problem, with many calling the folks on the street “service resistant.” But structural failures, such as the absence of quality neighborhood-based health and mental health support systems, are an underlying cause of the problem.

Moreover, we should also know by now that police and city outreach teams cannot lure people on the street into shelters. No, the street is not a lifestyle preference; it’s because the alternative of shelter is believed to be much worse — and often is.

Instead, what works is a “housing first” model that would completely bypass shelters and move people right from the street into apartments with intense wraparound services, particularly focusing on mental health supports.

Cities across the country, especially large cities like Chicago and Boston, have used this model and made great strides in reducing their street homeless population, while also finding it much more cost-effective than shelter.

And the long-term outcomes reinforce its efficacy. When they are in permanent housing, people are more likely to adhere to medication protocols, avoid reinstitutionalization and not return to the street.

So instead of city officials out there on the street talking with homeless New Yorkers, trying to figure out why they’re there, we need to rely on tested approaches that actually address homelessness.


President and Chief Executive

The Partnership for the Homeless

New York