Dirty bath water and a slew of apartment rejections test the faith of three single moms trying to get out of the city’s homeless shelter system. After 14 months, Johanna Garcia finally found an apartment for her and her children—but the journey wasn’t easy, and the average length of stay in shelter for families like hers is only getting longer, new data shows.
After 14 months living in the city’s shelter system, Johanna Garcia finally found an apartment for her and her two young children—but the journey wasn’t easy. During their time in shelter, the family called the four walls of a single hotel room home, with just a microwave in the hall for a kitchen and orange-tinted water that ran from the bathroom tap.
The length of stay in shelter for New York City families like hers is only getting longer, according to new data. The latest Mayor’s Management Report, published Friday, shows that families with children spent an average of 534 days, or nearly a year and a half, in Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters during the 2022 fiscal year that ended in June. That’s up from 520 days during the year before, and from 414 days in the 2017 fiscal year.
New Yorkers in the shelter system face myriad challenges to securing a permanent home: rents are at record highs and the availability of apartments priced for low- and middle- income tenants is at a decades-long low. The city sets aside only a small number of its affordable apartments specifically for homeless residents, and many families timed out from stays in domestic violence shelters inevitably enter the DHS system.
Meanwhile, homeless shelter residents with rental vouchers face rampant and largely unchecked source of income discrimination from landlords who refuse to rent to tenants with government subsidies, even after the city raised the rate of CityFHEPS housing vouchers and issued thousands of Section 8-style Emergency Housing Vouchers supplied by the federal government.
DHS did not provide a response to questions for this story, but the mayor’s report says the smaller number of shelter exits for families with children—down 27.6 percent compared to the prior fiscal year—was due to fewer of those families in shelter overall, which averaged 8,505 families per day during the fiscal year that ended in June.
But that figure has jumped in the months since: At the start of September, more than 10,500 such families spent time in a DHS shelter.
Though they make up a majority of the city’s homeless population, the daily lives of families in this system are largely misunderstood. The short documentary below, filmed during April and May of this year, tells the story of three single moms as they navigate life in shelter—and the arduous path to finding a permanent home.
With additional reporting by David Brand.