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Testimony on COVID-19 Relief for Homeless New Yorkers

Nearly 80,000 people in New York City are estimated to be homeless. Of these, approximately 60,000 people are in a shelters overseen by the Department of Homeless Services (“DHS”), with single adults accounting for around 20,000 among this figure. Ensuring that individuals in the shelter system have individual housing options is a long overdue step. Such measures are critically necessary, as congregate shelters – with dormitory-style sleeping, communal eating and restroom facilities, and inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment for staff and residents –  provide no real opportunity for residents to engage in social distancing, turning these spaces into petri-dishes for a virus that easily spreads through close personal proximity.

The Council must also call on the Mayor to immediately end targeting of homeless people in public spaces by the NYPD and other agencies. This includes ending the use of so called “sweeps” or “clean-ups” which threaten unsheltered homeless New Yorkers with the destruction of their belongings if they do not leave the public spaces where they have been sleeping. In normal circumstances, these tactics are cruel and often serve as a coercive means of encouraging people living on the streets to accept placement in often unsafe and unsanitary shelters. In the present moment, these tactics can be deadly and risk worsening the spread of the coronavirus as more people are moved around. These tactics are also directly contrary to CDC guidance, which advised that sweeps should not be used. Despite the risks and in direct contrast to the CDC’s recommendations, the city has continued to employ these tactics while COVID-19 was rapidly spreading, despite the lack of any promise of safe housing upon being relocated.

Read the full testimony below.


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