As faith leaders, we agree that the streets and the subways are not homes. But the encampment and subway sweeps your administration is conducting are unjust, immoral, and inhumane. When you separate people from their belongings and makeshift homes on the streets, and fail to provide them with a better option, you are only shuffling people around and traumatizing them further. We unequivocally condemn these sweeps, and we call on you to provide housing to homeless New Yorkers.
If you want to help homeless New Yorkers, you have to listen to them. We’ve heard from unsheltered folks who tell us that congregate shelters are often inadequate, unsafe, and traumatic. You know as well as we do that you cannot wish away poverty, and that efforts to reduce unsheltered homelessness will fail if the only shelter options people are given are the same ones that led them to sleep on the subways or streets in the first place. Rather than simply trying to make homelessness less visible to those of us who are lucky enough to be housed, we ask you to listen to the homeless New Yorkers who tell us that what they need to get off the streets is housing.
That’s why, as faith leaders, we urge you to stop the sweeps and focus on opening safe, private, and dignified accommodations for every New Yorker living on the streets and subways—including single-room Safe Havens, stabilization beds, and most importantly permanent housing.
The data shows that people will come inside if given a placement offer that meets their needs.
Unlike congregate shelters, where people often sleep 30 to a room, single-room Safe Haven and stabilization beds offer a sense of privacy that appeals to and helps many homeless New Yorkers. We saw the success of this approach with the temporary hotel shelters earlier in the pandemic, which offered similarly private accommodations. According to Project Renewal, which surveyed homeless individuals last year who were placed in hotels as part of the city’s COVID de-densification program, over 75% of temporary hotel shelter residents said their physical and mental health had improved, and 72% said their drug and alcohol use declined. Accidental drug overdose rates among homeless New Yorkers also declined after hotelling began.
It’s not just that private and dignified accommodations have better results—the numbers prove that homeless New Yorkers prefer them, too: only 10% of those who accepted referrals to congregate shelters during summer 2020 stayed there, compared to 35% who had stabilization beds. Another set of data from 2020 found that 75% of those offered stabilization beds stayed there, while data gathered by DHS between May 5, 2020 and April 4, 2021 found that while 30% of individuals offered transport to congregate shelters accepted placement there, 65% accepted placement at a stabilization bed, and 84% of those who accepted placement at a Safe Haven stayed there. All of the data we have makes clear that providing options that offer privacy is a successful way to encourage homeless New Yorkers to come inside. Meanwhile, just five individuals in 239 encampments have accepted placement.
Everybody deserves privacy, safety, and dignity. We urge you to recognize the worth of our unhoused neighbors, and help them to get back on their feet, not keep them on their knees. Please stop the sweeps, and start prioritizing getting folks housed.
Annmarie Aquino, parishioner, Church of the Good Shepherd
Rev. Emily Arnold, hospital chaplain
Rev. Laura Bachmann, pastor, Gates Presbyterian Church
Rev. John Backe, Metropolitan Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Dennice Barr, president, Fruit Belt Advisory Council
Chaplain Carter Baxter, Mount Sinai Health System
John Benfatti, director, Riverdale Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Brenda Berkman, chair, NYC Presbytery Justice Ministries Committee
Ivan Braun, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy
Rev. Peter Cook, executive director, New York State Council of Churches
Rev. Mickey Correa, pastor, Christ Church Washington Heights
Kiana Davis, social action/social justice manager, B’nai Jeshurun
Sister Carol DeAngelo, director of Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation, Sisters of Charity of New York
Simona DeFeo, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness
Anne Marie Del Campo, JPIC Good Shepherd Church
Kay Dundorf, board member, Riverdale Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Deirdre Fisher-Kemp, minister, New Light Baptist Church
Rev. Dr. Robert Foltz-Morrison, executive presbyter, Presbytery of New York City
Rev. Dr. Mary Foulke, rector, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Harlem
Minister Carl Garrison, minister of Homeless Outreach, Manhattan Church of Christ
Mr. Jerrold Goodman, board member, Riverdale Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, SAJ-Judaism That Stands for All
Rabbi Lisa Grant, Hebrew Union College
Marc Greenberg, executive director, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing
Peter Gudaitis, board of directors, Emergency Shelter Network
Rev. Martin Hauser, pastor, Grace & St. Paul’s Church
Rev. Melissa Hinnen, pastor, Park Slope United Methodist Church
Rev. David Jolly, pastor, Trinity United Methodist
Rev. K. Karpen, senior minister, Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
Sister Lamiya Khandaker, project manager, Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York
Rev. Charles King, CEO, Housing Works, Inc.
Sister Honora Kinney, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
Reverend, Deacon, Chaplain Gloria Lavine, The Reformed Church of Princess Bay/Community Advocate
Rev. Dorlimar Lebron, lead pastor/associate director, First Spanish Methodist Church/The Peoples Church
Jone Lewis, leader, Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture
The Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church
Rev. Lea Matthews, associate pastor, St. Paul & St. Andrew
Director John Mudd, executive director, Midtown South Community Council
Roshi Daiken Nelson, founder & guiding teacher, Pamsula Zen Center
Pastor Heidi Neumark, Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan/Iglesia Luterana Trinidad
Minister Chibueze Okorie, minister of Evangelism, Church of Gethsemane
Rabbi Shuli Passow, director of community engagement, B’nai Jeshurun
Rev. Nigel Pearce, pastor, Grace Congregational Church of Harlem
Rev. Dr. Victoria Jeanne Rollins, founder, director, co-chair, Rise Again Ministries, Episcopal Diocese of New York HFI
Rev. David Rommereim, Lutheran pastor, Northridge Lutheran (ELCA)
Dr. Nori Rost, clergy leader, New York Society for Ethical Culture
Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Rev. Charles Ryu, lead pastor, Morningside United Methodist Church
Rev. Matthew Schaeffer, pastor, Bay Ridge United Methodist Church
Rev. Francis Skelly, parish priest, Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Frances Stiles, member, service and advocacy team, Mountain Rise of United Church of Christ
Rev. Martha Stone, chair, Commission on Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations, UCC NY Conference
Anne Stribling, Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Timothy Weisman, pastor, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Rev. Jeff Wells, lead pastor, The Church of the Village