No One Knows How Many Homeless People Live in New York

Kimberly Forte, supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, speaks about the challenges of counting the number of people experiencing homelessness.
Interview (New York)

Brian Josephs
February 12, 2016

Tags: Housing: Homelessness

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society (New York City)


On Monday, DHS performed the federally mandated count for 2016. There are many challenges to accurately counting the number of homeless people in a city with over 8 million residents, chief among them being how to decide what qualifies a person as being “homeless”?

According to Kimberly Forte, supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society, a group that specializes in representing low-income New Yorkers: “That is just people who are found in public areas and on the street.” This doesn’t include demographics that include large numbers of young people, such as couch surfers, people squatting abandoned buildings, and sex workers spending the night with a client just to have a roof over their heads. By the federal definition, they were not homeless on Monday.

The results of the tally, which won’t be released until at least the summer, directly affect how much the federal government allocates to social services aimed at the homeless. Undercounting leads to underfunding, which cuts the amount of aid to vulnerable, homeless youth.