Study Led by NYU Silver School Professor Finds Street Homelessness is Exacerbated by Bureaucratic Obstacles

Interviews with 43 homeless persons living in New York City inform the findings.

Newswise — Examining the research question of why tens of thousands of Americans sleep on sidewalks, under highway overpasses, and in rail stations, a study led and co-authored by Professor Deborah Padgett of the Silver School of Social Work at New York University underscores the significance of bureaucratic encumbrances to shelter and housing options.

The new study, entitled “‘If you’re gonna help me, help me’: Barriers to housing among unsheltered homeless adults,” appeared recently in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning. Based upon a random sample of 43 homeless persons living on the streets of New York City, the study’s findings challenge the widely held notion that many homeless individuals prefer living outdoors despite the attendant risks and perils.

In fact, according to the study, the obstacles to getting housed are daunting., including the requirement to obtain identification documents, the inaccessibility of shelters for persons having complex healthcare needs, application procedures that entail long wait periods, and no-pets policies.

An estimated 3,675 homeless individuals were living on the streets in New York City in 2018 when these interviews were conducted, and in many U.S. cities, the numbers have grown in recent years. There are an estimated 190,000 unsheltered people in the U.S. each night, equivalent to the entire population of cities such as Providence, RI, or Fort Lauderdale, FL.

 “Virtually all barriers street homeless New Yorkers face stem from bureaucratic policies that, however well-intentioned, do not address their diverse needs,” wrote Padgett and her colleagues. “Thus, long delays and poor communication, combined with crowded, unsafe shelters, lead to frustration and alienation.”

“While homelessness is ultimately the result of a severe and chronic shortage of affordable housing,” they added, “creating accessible, safe, pet-friendly shelter and safe haven options and instituting a smoother, more transparent process for moving from the streets could substantially reduce street homelessness.”

Dr. Padgett, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is a professor of social work and a McSilver Faculty Fellow. She is known for her expertise in qualitative/mixed methods and the Housing First approach to ending homelessness. Her coauthors on the study included: Christina Wusinich, an interdisciplinary research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health; Lynden Bond, a social worker and doctoral student at NYU Silver; and Anna Nathanson, a social worker and MSW graduate of NYU Silver.