The Imperative of a Housing-First Approach: Lessons from NYC’s Failed Homeless Sweep

As a non-profit supportive housing provider, we fervently believe that every individual is entitled to the basic necessities of life: food water, education, medical care, and most notably—shelter. We adhere to a housing-first approach that treats all human beings with the respect and dignity they deserve. This write-up reflects on the implications of Mayor Eric Adams’ recent homeless sweep policy in New York City and underscores the need for an effective, humane strategy to counteract homelessness.

According to a recent audit by the city comptroller’s office, only 5% of people removed from homeless encampments under Mayor Adams’ administration last year accepted temporary shelter. Even more troubling, only three people were able to secure housing since the initiation of this policy—a clear indication of the policy’s failure to meet its objectives.

The mayor’s policy, borne of a joint task force involving four city agencies, intended to dismantle homeless encampments and subsequently provide displaced people with access to housing and other services. Despite the completion of over 200 sweeps, the audit revealed a distressing incidence—almost 99.9% of the forcibly displaced remained homeless.

City Comptroller Brad Lander termed the policy a “failure by every measure.” This sentiment was echoed by Dave Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, who opined that a majority of homeless people long for the safety and dignity of permanent housing, not temporary, often unsafe shelters.

This report indicates disastrous effects on the homeless population and underscores the need for a revised approach. Comptroller Lander and various local housing advocates suggested an alternative: a housing-first policy. Evidence from Denver and Philadelphia substantiates the potential effectiveness of a housing-first approach; after two to three years of receiving subsidized permanent housing, between 70% and 90% of project participants maintained stable housing.

Mayor Adams’ policy, as evidenced from these findings, not only failed in its intent but also seemed to exacerbate the homelessness crisis. Lander proposed three cogent recommendations: terminate the inefficacious sweeps, scale up safe havens and stabilization beds, and most critically, establish a large-scale, housing-first program.

As a supportive housing provider, we strongly endorse Lander’s recommendations. The utilization of a housing-first approach aligns with our ethic of treating all human beings with dignity and provides a viable long-term solution to address homelessness.

The evidence is clear: the key to mitigating homelessness is not through temporary measures or forced displacement, but rather through the implementation of a robust, housing-first strategy. Let us educate ourselves, spread awareness, and work together to create sustainable housing solutions for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Meta: This blog post critiques New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ homeless sweep policy, highlighting its failure to truly address the homelessness crisis. Providing an in-depth analysis of recent audit results, it compellingly argues for a housing-first approach, backed by successful case studies, as a humane and effective solution to homelessness while emphasizing the inherent dignity of all individuals.

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