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New York City shelter system, nonprofits face surge in need for help

DSS commissioner discusses surge at New York City shelters
DSS commissioner discusses surge at New York City shelters 02:38

NEW YORK -- New York City's shelter system is growing at an alarming rate.

The commissioner of the Department of Social Services, which includes the Department of Homeless Services, says in two years, the city's shelter system doubled to about 88,000 people. CBS New York's Jenna DeAngelis sat down with her for a close look at the issue and visited an organization tackling the surge in homelessness.

Cannon Green works as a cook at the Bowery Mission, making meals for those in need. Twenty years ago, he was on the receiving end.

"Anything that was trying to defeat my life, I was doing it," Green said.

But the nonprofit helped him turn his life around.

"It feels good to be able to serve, but it feels better to be able to see people understand that there's hope," he said.

Hope is at the heart of the Bowery Mission, which offers food, overnight shelter and services for progress toward independent living, but the need in New York City is growing.

In the past few weeks, the Bowery Mission has seen almost double the amount of people in its meal lines, now feeding around 500 people per meal each day.

"On our front doors, we've seen the need at numbers that we hadn't seen since the pandemic, and they're heightened," said Karl Chan, director of partnerships at the Bowery Mission.

According to the mayor's preliminary management report, from July through October of 2023, the number of people in the city's shelter system increased by 53%, compared to the same period in 2022.

"What's the reason for this?" DeAngelis asked DSS Commissioner Molly Wasow Park.

"That's really a reflection of the asylum crisis," she said.

Wasow Park says more than 80% of the growth in the shelter system is asylum seekers.

"If there was a true federal decompression strategy so that the same number of people coming to the country were spread out across the country, it would look very different," she said.

She says the city's strategy includes a major focus on permanent housing.

"From day one when somebody enters the shelter system, we are helping them to make an independent living plan," Wasow Park said.

For those with vouchers unable to find housing with low inventory, a new housing initiative will create 1,500 permanent, affordable homes.

"With this program, we're using social service dollars to support not-for-profits. They will bring us buildings. They will either lease them or in some cases acquire them, and all of those units will be filled with households exiting the shelter system," Wasow Park said.

It also doubled the number of outreach workers to make connections with people on the streets, but the issue is ongoing and those working to tackle it ask for compassion and extra support for those in need.

"I encourage everyone who sees the need to find ways to engage," Chan said.

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