The crowds outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan resemble any number of cities struggling to contain a crisis of homelessness: dozens of people languishing on sidewalks, camping out on flattened cardboard boxes day and night. New York has managed to avoid these kinds of widespread encampments that are more common in cities on the West Coast, largely because of a unique legal agreement that requires the city to provide a bed for anyone who requests one. No other major U.S. city has a similar mandate, known as a “right to shelter,” reports the New York Times. However, this week, Mayor Eric Adams declared, in dire terms, that there was no more room left for migrants. His administration was coming up with a plan, Adams said, so that “we don’t have what’s in other municipalities where you have tent cities all over the city,” evoking images of homeless camps in places like San Francisco and Seattle on the streets of New York. “We need help,” Adams said. “And it’s not going to get any better.”
Already, New York is home to thousands of people who are considered “unsheltered,” meaning they sleep on the streets or in the subways instead of opting for a shelter bed. The vast majority of New York’s homeless population sleeps in shelters, in stark contrast to cities like Los Angeles. New York’s harsher winters also make large-scale outdoor encampments less feasible than on the West Coast. “Tent cities are on the rise around the country because of an extreme and growing lack of affordable housing,” said Maria Foscarinis of the National Homelessness Law Center, a nonprofit. “The reason they are not as prevalent in New York is the city’s legal right to shelter.” That legal requirement should theoretically continue to keep New York’s homeless people sheltered, but the city is now struggling under the weight of nearly 100,000 migrants who have arrived since last year. More than 56,000 migrants remain in New York City’s shelters and more continue to arrive -- 2,300 last week alone. New York City has opened 194 sites to house the newcomers in any usable facilities it could find, including hotel ballrooms, parking lots, former jails, and an airport warehouse. The city’s homeless shelter population now exceeds 100,000 people, a record high.