New York is currently considered one of the largest metropolitan areas and has the largest homeless population of any city in the United States. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, in August 2021, “There were 47,916 homeless people, including 14,946 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system.” For reference, that figure represents more than twice the seating capacity of Madison Square Garden.
Lack of access to housing and adequate shelter is a major problem for many New Yorkers, particularly as we enter into the coldest months of the year and nighttime temperatures are regularly below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
Though there is a lot more work that needs to be done when it comes to addressing homelessness in New York City, there are many resources available. Whether you are currently homeless or are hoping to help those who are, consider these helpful resources:
When Should I Call 311?
In New York (and many other large American cities), 311 is a number that can be called to access city services in a non-emergency situation. One of the many services that can be accessed via the 311 phone line is the city’s “Homeless Outreach” service, designed to help those who are currently living without access to housing.
By calling 311, you can find access to homeless shelters for both yourself and other people. During the winter, the City may issue a “Cold Blue” warning, meaning that the temperature has dropped below 32 degrees (including windchill) and homelessness will be treated as an emergency—when this is the case, all Homeless Outreach calls will be redirected to the 911 emergency line.
How Can I Find a Homeless Shelter in New York City?
There are several ways to find a homeless shelter in New York City, including through services provided by the city, as well as services provided by charities and other non-governmental organizations.
If you have access to the internet, you can use NYC’s Department of Homeless Services online portal to search for both temporary and permanent shelter options. According to the Department of Social Services, “Governed by a unique right to shelter mandate, New York City provides temporary emergency shelter to every man, woman, and child who is eligible for services every night. This policy sets New York apart from municipalities across the nation—many of which turn homeless individuals and families away once shelters have filled up or simply put their names on the waiting list.”
The right to shelter mandate has helped New York prevent many deaths due to lack of shelter, particularly during the cold winter months. Other organizations, including the Coalition for the Homeless, also have online platforms that can help homeless people find resources and shelters for men, women, families, and children.
The Grand Central Food Program (GCFP)
The Grand Central Food Program, which is supported by the Coalition for Homelessness, provides warm food, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, and other much-needed resources throughout the entire year. The program operates via trucks and products are distributed freely throughout the city.
Currently, the GCFP runs its trucks in the evenings, with most stops taking place between 7:15 and 9:30. The downtown route features eight stops between 35th St. (under FDR Drive) and Penn Station, the uptown route features nine stops between 51st St. and Harlem hospital, and the Bronx route features seven stops between the intersections of Fordham and Webster and Randall and Bryant.
The program runs every day, regardless of the weather (even during blizzards).
New York City Church Assistance Programs
Many of the churches (and other religious or spiritual organizations) in New York are committed to providing resources and shelter for the homeless. One of the best churches for obtaining overnight shelter is the First Presbyterian Church, which is located at 12 W 12th Street and can be reached by phone at 212-675-6150. There, “clients can have a bed to sleep in, or given a free hot meal, and volunteers provide other support services available, especially in Manhattan.”
Other New York churches that provide help and assistance to the homeless include The Church of the Holy Apostle (located at 296 9th Avenue), the Church of the Blessed Sacrament (located at 152 W 1st Street), and many others. Using a combination of volunteers and donations, these churches run soup kitchens and provide food to those in need.
In addition to food and shelter, the churches of New York City also provide services that help those in need pay their bills. According to the program, “Struggling residents of the greater New York City area can get help from local churches and other faith based groups. Some of what may be provided includes shelter, hot meals, information on applying for financial aid or maybe a few dollars to pay a bill as well as other aid. There are churches that support the poor, immigrants, and vulnerable in all [five] boroughs.”
Homelessness is always a challenge—and housing is something that should be considered a human right. If you or someone you know is currently experiencing homelessness, be sure to consider utilizing these helpful outreach programs and other resources.
Andrew is a freelance writer that primarily focuses on real estate and finance topics. He graduated from the University of Colorado with degrees in Finance and Political Science and has since worked in the real estate, life insurance, and digital marketing industries. When he is not writing, Andrew enjoys skiing, playing piano, painting, and spending time with his wife (Maggie) and cat (Crow).