The Partnership for the Homeless

New Priority Means Fewer Beds in City Shelters

A response from our CEO to The New York Times Editorial, May 17, 2016

I thought I was reading a shameful editorial from 30 years ago, calling those New Yorkers struggling on our streets “beggars and derelicts.” And perhaps as shocking, the editorial was relying on old notions, rejected long-ago by the social science community, that the street was a life-style choice.

But most surprisingly the editorial was written today, after we’ve learned so much more about homelessness and especially how shelter is ineffective to bring people off the streets, offering little or no promise of a solution.  

So, contrary to the opinions offered, let’s not mourn the loss of shelter beds.  Though there’ll surely be a hue and cry from non-profit organizations running shelters, they have a strong desire - and financial interest - in maintaining the status quo.  In fact, over the years, we created, albeit inadvertently, a homeless shelter industry that insidiously couches their organizational interests in outmoded social service-speak, asserting that those on our streets are not “housing ready”, in order to justify the ongoing need for their assistance.

But it’s very clear now that a “housing first” approach, prioritized by HUD, is being successfully implemented by large cities across our nation as a way to finally address the problem, over the long-term, and reduce our costly reliance on shelters.  And yes, even for those challenged by severe mental health issues and drug and alcohol use.

Perhaps now, with money being cut, we’ll be forced to end our fixation with shelters, and finally overhaul a system that we’ve been tinkering with, to no avail, over the past three decades.

Arnold S. Cohen
President & CEO