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Record Number Of Young Adults Move Out Of NYC’s Homeless Shelters

By Chau Lam 
April 10, 2023

A record number of homeless young adults and domestic violence survivors are moving out of shelters and into their own apartments thanks to a pandemic-era program that gave them emergency housing vouchers, according to city officials and homeless advocates.

About 280 young people moved out of shelters into a place of their own since July 2021 and another 115 are waiting to sign leases thanks to the temporary federal Emergency Housing Voucher program, said Mark Zustovich, a spokesperson for New York City Department of Youth & Community Development.

From July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, only 88 young adults moved out of DYCD-funded shelters and support programs into permanent housing, he added.

Historically a small percentage of homeless young adults transitioned from shelters because they were not eligible for most housing voucher programs, said Jamie Powlovich, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth. But after they were given access to the one-time vouchers, young adults in the DYCD system exiting homelessness into a home of their own increased 350% as of March, she added.

“It’s a win for the youth that’s exiting homelessness,” Powlovich said. “But it’s also a prevention win because what we know is that homeless young people don’t just turn 21 or 25 and magically, they’re not homeless anymore.”

The increase in the number of young people moving out of shelters and into permanent housing comes as the city is facing record-breaking levels of homelessness, with more than 73,200 people staying in city shelters as of Wednesday. Zustovich said there were 658 homeless youths in DYCD-funded shelters and support programs as of April 6.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that followed, the Biden administration and Congress in 2021 created the temporary Emergency Housing Voucher program to help Americans find stable housing. The funding for the program lasts through 2030.

The measure was part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided $1.9 trillion in economic relief to address the impact of the pandemic. Of that sum, $5 billion went to pay for the Emergency Housing Voucher program, which provided 70,000 housing choice vouchers, commonly known as Section 8, to local public housing authorities across the country. Its purpose is to help people, including those experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, or those who are at high risk for housing instability.

Under the program, low-income residents can choose their housing and the federal government covers most of the rent, which is paid to the landlords.

New York City received 7,788 of the vouchers and all have been issued to residents in homeless shelters or who are low-income, according to William Fowler, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Housing & Preservation Development, one of two agencies tasked with distributing them.

As of March, 5,375 households found housing, Fowler said. Of those, 4,118 households have already moved into their own homes and another 1,257 have found a place and are waiting to move in. He said about 31% of the vouchers have not been used yet. It could be that people have not found a place or they haven’t submitted their move-in paperwork, Fowler said.

Michael Adonice Smith, 22, is among one of the voucher recipients who moved into a brand new one-bedroom apartment in Riverdale. The building has a gym, indoor garage and community spaces for group gatherings. He pays less than $2,000 a month for his rent-stabilized unit.

“It’s quiet,” said Smith. “I don’t hear police sirens often or fire trucks, hardly any honking from cars either.”

Smith was a sophomore at Fayetteville University in North Carolina when he had to move out of his dorm at the height of the pandemic and moved back to the Bronx to live with his mother, his grandmother and an aunt. He said his mother kicked him out because they didn’t get along.

He lived in a shelter and in his car. Smith found a job that allowed him to work overtime, particularly the overnight shift, so he didn’t have to sleep in his car.

“I would go into work on Friday night and not come out till Sunday afternoon,” Smith said. “It wasn’t because I wanted to. I just didn’t want to sleep outside, and I didn’t have enough money to buy hotel rooms for days and weeks at a time.”

Smith is grateful to the staff at Streetwork Project – a nonprofit group that operates a shelter and drop-in centers for homeless young adults – for helping him secure a ticket out of homelessness.

Smith has resumed taking classes, but online instead of on campus, and hopes to work in health care management. His dream, he said, is to be the chief executive officer of a hospital one day.

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