Since becoming the mayor of New York City in January 2022, Eric Adams has introduced five programs aimed at offering “outreach” to unhoused people. However, after months of expanding police funding to push homeless people out of subways and encampments, the goal and efficacy of Adams’ initiatives are still ambiguous. Though his administration touts that about 2,000 people have been moved into shelters as a result of these sweeps, Gothamist reports that there is little to no information on the longevity of their stays or on the conditions and stability of this housing. Additionally, the promise of a bed in New York City’s notoriously dangerous and carceral shelter system is not always appealing or advisable. In the first week of Adams’ subway sweeps, according to the New York Post, only 22 out of the 1,000 unhoused people recorded by cops and city workers agreed to move to a shelter.
Many of Adams’ efforts essentially focus on moving unhoused people out of public spaces and out of sight. Per his administration’s press releases, the clearest intention of his programs is to provide more shelter beds—not permanent housing—and to streamline the system that delivers people into those spaces. The subsequent attempts to provide “holistic support” to people in need of stable housing ring like an afterthought, declared in vague and press-friendly terms. So who will this initiative really benefit?
Although Adams frames homelessness in the city as a public safety issue, as seen in his Subway Safety Plan, the funding behind his most recent initiative, the Homeless Assistance Fund, reveals another shareholder in this effort—private companies with real estate interests. According to New York Focus, 61 companies in the financial, real estate and media sectors donated $8 million to the non-profit organization Breaking Ground, which provides services like medical care and employment connections to unhoused people. This is a good start, but the priority behind this initiative is clearly profit-based. According to Politico, Adams receives substantial campaign funding from real estate investment and development executives; subsequently, New York Focus reports that in-demand neighborhoods for real estate speculation make up the designated “target areas” of the Homeless Assistance Fund.
The clinical, vaguely progressive language the Adams administration uses to justify its aggressive methods can’t quite distract from the obvious goals of these programs. Adams describes that the existence of unhoused people in public spaces is evidence of a “dysfunctional” city, NBC New York reports. If this alleged dysfunction is lacking the capability to house all of the city’s inhabitants, it would be more advantageous to look to the predatory real estate industry instead of to the people pushed to the margins of society.
Although the Housing Stability and Protection Act, passed in 2019 by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, helped curb real estate speculation—a driving cause of excessive rent hikes—Community Service Society reports that the recession caused by COVID-19 reopened the door to profit-driven developers looking to consolidate the city’s housing market. This bubble hasn’t burst yet; shockingly, NY1 reports that the median rent in Manhattan rose just above $4,000 in June 2022. The continual presence of unhoused people on the streets shows this tightening housing market; the speculation driving up rent prices makes permanent housing hopeless for many.
There is a tendency to describe the existence of houseless people in cities as a “homeless problem,” even a “crisis.” This language creates a passive narrative that misses the point entirely: the crisis is inherent to the system. Any government initiative that claims to aim to solve homelessness with financial backing from the very institutions that create housing precarity is simply trying to hide the material evidence of a bloodthirsty system. In using homeless outreach plans as a means to bolster the private real estate industry, the Adams administration exemplifies the inability of the state to address the manmade “crisis” which proves intrinsic to corporate and political profit.