New York City has over 100,000 homeless people. In winter, this reality shows dramatic new lines. During this period of the year, the average maximum temperature is 4.2°C, while the average minimum temperature is -2.3°C. On the coldest days of the year, thermometers can drop below -20°C with an even lower thermal sensation, a risk for those with nowhere to go.
That’s not exclusive to New York. In the richest country in the world, the number of homeless people broke a record in 2023, a concerning data, particularly considering the difficulties faced during cold months.
“There is a thing called ‘Point-in-Time Count’, which is the estimate of street people on a specific night. In 2023, the number was approximately 650,000, the highest number ever recorded since the count began, in 2007,” expert Stephen Metraux explained to pvbet.io.
Number of people on the streets is on the rise
The professor at the University of Delaware explained that this “isn’t a great counting method because street people are difficult to measure. […] But that’s the best we have right now and, according to that estimate, the current situation is the worst, at least in the last decade and a half.”
Local solutions to a national problem
When winter comes, cities present different measures to protect the homeless population during the coldest days of the year.
In Chicago, a city well known for its cold wind, City Hall keeps the doors of libraries open so that people can spend the night in a warm place. In Boston, which has already seen its first blizzard of 2024, some subway stations also welcome people during the coldest nights.
In New York, when temperatures are forecast to fall below 0°C, the so-called Code Blue is triggered. Among the measures taken, homeless people can sleep in any shelter in the city and more social workers go to the streets.
“It’s like a band-aid,” Metraux said. “These are effective measures to prevent people from freezing to death. However, this is just one of the many problems homeless people face.”
The expert explains that “in the last instance, homeless people need a house. If they are sick for mental or physical health reasons, or substance abuse, they need public services."
In recent years, New York City Hall implemented a controversial policy to take tents from sidewalks and expel people living in subway stations and cars, which run 24 hours a day.
In the biggest city in the country, however, many residents currently on the streets do not want to stay in public shelters. That’s the case with Johnny Grima, whose tent was taken by police in Manhattan.
“You know, violent things happen in these shelters, such as stabbings and other things,” he said. “That’s too dangerous, man. And yes, nobody wants this kind of life. Who wants to live at risk all the time?” he asked.
Even for those who want to be in a City Hall shelter, the situation isn’t simple. With a record flow of immigrants arriving in the city every day, the housing system is overcrowded.
Since 2022, over 160,000 immigrants have arrived in New York, of which 70,000 remain dependent on public shelters. Those who still have nowhere to live face cold nights on the sidewalks of Manhattan.
Many of the immigrants who crossed the border with Mexico arrived in New York on buses sent by the Texas government, which led the city to go to court. The measure is a maneuver to pressure Democrats for more restrictive immigration policies.
In a recent announcement, Mayor Eric Adams (Democrats) stated that “New York City has and will always do our part to manage this humanitarian crisis, but we cannot bear the costs of reckless political ploys from the state of Texas alone.”
Even though the influx of immigrants overwhelms the shelter system, the biggest problem is the lack of housing, or at least housing that people can afford.
According to the US federal government, the average salary in the city is around US$3,100 per month (after taxes). Meanwhile, the average rent for a studio is US$3,047, according to a real estate listing website.
“The US is the richest country in the world. I believe that there are resources to solve this problem but, for some reason, we don’t solve it,” Metraux added. “Why does this problem exist? A simple answer is that, despite all the wealth this country has, it is not equally distributed. Therefore, there is a small number of people who have a lot and a larger number who don't have enough to pay for basic expenses like housing."
Edited by: Thalita Pires