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Most New Yorkers support homeless shelters in their neighborhood: poll

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Some six in ten New Yorkers say they would actually support a shelter opening in their community

The Auburn Family Residence, a shelter for homeless families and individuals, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The city has faced fierce opposition over its plans to build 90 new shelters for the city’s rising homeless population, but nearly six in ten New Yorkers say they would actually support a shelter opening in their neighborhood, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by homeless service group Win and market research company HarrisX, questioned 1,002 New Yorkers from all five boroughs on the city’s homeless crisis; more than 63,000 New Yorkers—enough to fill Yankee Stadium and then some—currently lack housing. Of those polled, 92 percent say shelter space should be offered to all who need it and 59 percent said they would support a homeless shelter opening its doors in their community.

“New Yorkers don’t agree on much, but the poll shows that New Yorkers believe we should do more to solve the problem of homelessness and they are willing to do their part, in their own neighborhoods,” said Christine Quinn, former City Council speaker and current president and CEO of Win, in a statement.

Those surveyed also expressed overwhelming support for city-offered supportive services, including career counseling and help obtaining housing; aid in accessing subsidized child care for homeless and formerly homeless children; tax incentives for employers who train and hire homeless and those who once were; and rent vouchers to help those struggling to make ends meet stay in their homes.

Last year, 133,284 homeless men, women, and children slept in city shelters, according to city data. That figure has ballooned over recent years with the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters 74 percent higher than it was 10 years ago, and the number of single adults a staggering 150 percent higher compared to a decade ago, according to analysis by the Coalition for the Homeless.

To reduce those numbers, in February 2017 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “Turning the Tide on Homelessness,” an aggressive five-year plan to overhaul the city’s shelter system. Under the plan, the city seeks to end the use of commercial hotels for shelter, shutter all privately-owned city shelter units—often referred to as cluster sites—and replace them with 90 new shelters equipped with supportive services. Homeless shelters announced for Washington Heights, Midtown, and Crown Heights drew fierce ire from locals.

But neighbors often balk at shelters because of misconceptions about the city’s homeless, and Win’s survey highlights those misbeliefs. While families with children represent over 70 percent of New York City’s homeless population, 62 percent of those polled believe that the city’s homeless are primarily single men and women. Some 65 percent also assumed that having a job is enough to stave off homelessness, but one in three homeless families have a working adult. The country’s level of working poor—those who spend 27 weeks or more in a year either working or looking for work, but whose incomes fall below the federal poverty line—came in at just shy of 10 million in 2016, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Even those who opposed shelters coming to their neighborhoods admit living near one “isn’t as bad as we thought it would be,” as Dion Ashman, a longtime Crown Heights resident, told Curbed in October. Ashman, who opposed a family shelter opening on Rogers Avenue and Crown Street, even helped bring a lawsuit on behalf of concerned neighbors to halt the project.

“The things that people were concerned about, the quality of life issues, those haven’t really materialized,” he told Curbed. The advisory board for that shelter, of which Ashman is a member, shifted to meeting every three months instead of monthly because there simply wasn’t much to report within that window. “There wasn’t really enough new material to report on at the end of every month,” Ashman added.