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Homelessness in NYC-Women in Need NYC Literature Review


John Jay College of Criminal Justice

May 01, 2021

Homelessness in NYC-Women in Need NYC Literature Review


One of the critical social challenges in the United States is homelessness. Homelessness in New York City is at an all-time high, with record numbers of homeless families needing shelter and services (WIN, 2020). The idea that homelessness is a choice perpetuates a false narrative. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (2020), it was reported that nearly 570,000 people had no place to sleep in January 2020 (O, Regan et al., 2021). According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services (2021), as of March 2021, there were 11,563 sheltered homeless families, 16,956 homeless children, 16,921 homeless adults in families, and 4,830 homeless single women. While homelessness may look like it is a problem that can only be resolved through allowing affordable housing and expanding shelters, the problem runs deeper and may require many support services to combat this crisis. There’s a multitude of available services to assist families struggling with homelessness in New York City.

According to Otokiti & Alabi (2018), homelessness is defined as a lack of permanent housing that leads to instability and uncertainty of where one will sleep at night. Two categories of homeless individuals exist, those that are unsheltered and those that are sheltered. Research shows that the total number of unsheltered and sheltered homeless women and children has been on the rise, particularly after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with domestic violence, eviction, and unemployment as the leading causes (WIN, 2020). The sheltered homeless population resides in public housing units which are government-run programs, families living in transitional shelters, and that have no option but to live or double up with family or friends (Otokiti & Alabi, 2018). The unsheltered homeless individuals usually take shelter in public spaces such as public parks, subways, and streets. To better understand some of the available housing programs, it’s essential to know the differences between emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing. Most homeless families usually go to emergency shelters to receive services and short-term stability before attaining a long-term plan addressing their housing needs. On a typical day, 24,000 victims and their children receive emergency shelter services in the U.S (Fisher & Stylianou, 2019). According to WIN (2020), 1 of 12 families that leaves the shelter system will return within one year. Emergency and transitional housing are time-limited programs, while permanent supportive housing programs do not have a specified time limit (Hong & Piescher, 2012), all of which WIN NYC offers to their residents. According to Lisitski (2019), transitional housing combines up to 24 months of housing with accompanying support services to provide a foundation of stability to enable a successful transition to independent living. The average length of time a homeless family will live in the shelter system is 15 months (WIN, 2020). The supportive housing intake process consists of assessing the family’s strengths and needs using standardized self-report questionnaires, a parent interview, and reports from children’s teachers (Gewirtz, 2010). Women and their children often need more comprehensive programs of support, such as permanent supportive housing, which offer social services such as job training, substance use programs, case management, life skills training, child care, etc., in addition to housing.

Domestic Violence

Homeless women comprise of an increasing proportion of the homeless population (Lehmann et al., 2007). The most common profile of a homeless family is one headed by a single mother in her late 20s with approximately two children, one or both under six years of age (Hong & Piescher, 2012). Women and mothers under the age of 35 are at a higher risk of becoming homeless due to instability in their support network. Housing instability and homelessness among women are associated with poor mental health and physical health outcomes, higher mortality rates, reduced access to health and social care (Reid et al., 2020). During the emergence of Covid-19, research studies have suggested rampant domestic violence incidents based on social and economic pressure. In the U.S, an estimated 5200 women are turned away from domestic violence services due to lack of funding or space (Peek-Asa et al., 2011). Domestic violence victims lost social connections from friends, coworkers, and helping professionals due to social distancing guidelines. In-person support teams were prevented from continuing their roles in helping victims survive abuse (Sharma & Borah, 2020). Domestic violence shelters play an integral role in supporting victims and are a critical source by offering victims services, safety, and a place to consider their options (Fisher & Stylianou, 2019).

Fisher & Stylianou (2019) analyzed the provisions of domestic violence emergency shelters located in NYC designed to help women facing domestic violence. The study’s purpose was to examine the victims’ perspectives on what support services are needed to improve the program’s delivery. However, many of the DV shelters were understaffed and under-resourced due to lack of funding, reflecting on the residents’ dissatisfaction with their services because the shelters were not meeting their needs. Some of the negative experiences with shelter staff were the lack of emotional support, helpfulness, availability, and empathy, which influences the shelter residents’ decision to leave or stay depending on the quality of services.

Impact on Children

Extended shelter stays are expensive and can be detrimental to children. Homeless children have disproportionate negative academic experiences, including absenteeism, high mobility rates, grade repetition, and the need for special education services, which may all contribute to poor academic performance (Hong & Piescher, 2012). Research indicates that homeless children are much more likely to be exposed to community violence, domestic violence, and child abuse and are at higher rates of stressors such as changing schools, hunger, and malnutrition. Children are more exposed to social isolation due to unsafe environments, past histories of victimization, and trauma experienced by their mothers (Hong & Piescher, 2012). Children are vulnerable to mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression due to multiple traumatic events (Gewirtz, 2010). Although safe and stable housing is critical for a child, housing alone is insufficient because of the high rates of educational, behavioral, and emotional problems among children. Upon arrival to a shelter, emotional and behavioral difficulties may exacerbate among children (Gewirtz, 2010).

Aging Out of Foster Care

During the transition to adulthood, young people aging out of foster care at a high risk of homeless. Research states that 30% of the youth leaving out of the foster care system experienced homelessness by the age of 26 due to the difficulty securing housing (O, Regan et al., 2021). This population faces challenges in acquiring housing, but they also experience challenges in education, employment, and mental health. After they are discharged at the age of 18 and out of the foster care system, they are no longer eligible to receive state assistance such as housing, financial, medical, and food security. Homelessness increases the risk for several adverse life outcomes of foster care youth, such as the increased risk for lack of education, employment, victimization, substance abuse, and incarceration (Verulava et al., 2020). Verulava et al. (2020) conducted a study on young people that have aged out of foster care and were living in shelters. Commonalities among most participants were that after the death of their parents, they entered the shelter and lacked adequate emotional, social, and financial support. A participant in a study stated, “The most challenging aspect for me now is to survive on my own; I don’t have a job, family, or supports, I don’t know where to go” (Verulava et al., 2020, p. 111). Therefore, to effectively navigate the transition, this population needs access to opportunities that can assist them. WIN NYC serves young women aging out of foster care by providing them with strengths-based case management.


The unsheltered and sheltered homeless population are often stigmatized, discriminated against, and encounter barriers to securing employment. There’s a false narrative that the homeless population is either unemployed or with no desire to work; however, it was reported that almost one-third of homeless people work at least part-time (Golabek-Goldman, 2017). A concerning issue is that most employers don’t employ formerly homeless or homeless people. Employers have doubts about their dependability, motivation, and ability to assimilate into the workplace. Discrimination is the most common challenge which causes feelings of discouragement and hopelessness to regaining housing stability and job-seeking (Golabek-Goldman, 2017). Many are rejected during the hiring process due to a lack of permanent housing when questioned about their residency history. If the homeless population was given an equal chance to employment opportunities, they would be better positioned to secure housing stability.

Best practices

Within homeless housing and services, the promotion and use of evidence-based practices are implemented when serving residents. Due to the lasting effects of trauma, there has been a growing interest in systems of care to mitigate re-traumatization and focuses on client strengths and empowerment (Lisitski, 2019). Trauma-informed care has been found to play an integral role for both victims of violence and the youth experiencing homelessness (Reid et al., 2020). WIN (2020) trains all its social services staff, security, maintenance staff, and program leadership staff in Trauma-Informed care (TIC). Social care staff are trained in Motivational Interviewing (MI). Supportive housing staff are trained on Strengths-Based Case Management (SBCM). Trauma-Informed Care is a strengths-based framework grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, which emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors. It creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment (Lisitski, 2019). Organizations such as WIN NYC implement TIC because it’s meant to create a culture of safety and promote healing from trauma. Its focus is to provide support in managing trauma symptoms and engaging in practical daily functions (Lisitski, 2019). In addition, research has been found to positively impact housing stability among families experiencing homelessness (Lisitski, 2019). However, there have been interconnected challenges with TIC implementation due to insufficient funding from the federal government, which causes shorter-term interventions that limit supportive services. There is confusion on what TIC includes and how it is unique from the social work practice (Lisitski, 2019).

Furthermore, additional practices related to TIC are mindfulness, empowerment counseling, and motivational interviewing. According to Lisitski (2019, for decades, the empowerment theory and counseling model have been utilized within domestic violence shelter programs. As such, part of WIN’s central goal is “to empower domestic violence survivors and their residents so that they can regain independence” (p.28). The theory of empowerment is based on the assumption that the capacity of people to improve their lives is determined by their ability to control their environment and emphasizes the importance of engagement in activities (Busch & Valentine, 2000). At WIN, caseworkers work one-on-one with mothers to help them set their own goals and empower them. Social workers within the nonprofit organization offer 100 workshops to help clients feel empowered and develop peer support systems (WIN, 2020). Empowerment promotes a greater quality of life and attainment of longer-term positive outcomes (Lisitski, 2019). Moreover, victims of violence become empowered when they gain power and access to resources (Busch & Valentine, 2000).


In conclusion, the homelessness crisis, particularly among women, children, and the youth aging out of foster is a complex issue as this population is affected physically, psychologically, and emotionally. WIN NYC is making significant strides towards providing vital services to assist women and children in eradicating homelessness in NYC. Many support services and programs are available in homeless shelters to help this vulnerable population to help combat this crisis. However, many homeless individuals are turned away due to a lack of space and funding. Some shelter residents do not receive adequate services to fulfill their needs and are dissatisfied, influencing their decision to stay or leave shelters, affecting their safety. As services and programs are developed, program evaluations are essential to ensure that shelter residents’ needs are met.


Busch, N., & Valentine, D. (2000). Empowerment Practice: A Focus on Battered Women. Affilia, 15(1), 82–95.

Fisher, E. M., & Stylianou, A. M. (2016). To stay or to leave: Factors influencing victims’ decisions to stay or leave a domestic violence emergency shelter. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(4), 785–811., A. H. (2010). Homeless shelters, permanent/supportive housing, and transitional housing. Moving from Evidence to Action: The Safe Start Series on Children Exposed to Violence (6)., S. (2017). Ban the address: combating employment discrimination against the homeless. Yale Law Journal, 126(6), 1788+.

Hong, S., & Piescher, K. (2012). The role of supportive housing in homeless children’s well-being: An investigation of child welfare and educational outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(8), 1440–1447.

Lehmann, E. R., Kass, P. H., Drake, C. M., & Nichols, S. B. (2007). Risk factors for first-time homelessness in low-income women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 77(1), 20–28., J. (2019). The Use of Trauma-Informed Care in Programs Serving Families Experiencing Homelessness. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

NYC Department of Homeless Services (2021). Stats and Reports: DHS Data Dashboard Charts FYTD 2021.

O’Regan, K., Ellen, I., & House, S. (2021). How to Address Homelessness: Reflections from Research. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 693(1), 322–332.

Otokiti, A. U., & Alabi, O. (2018). Challenges faced by the homeless population in New York City: An analysis of healthcare delivery and utilization of care. New York Medical Journal, 12(2)., C., Wallis, A., Harland, K., Beyer, K., Dickey, P., & Saftlas, A. (2011). Rural disparity in domestic violence prevalence and access to resources. Journal of women’s health (2002), 20(11), 1743–1749., N., Kron, A., Rajakulendran, T., Kahan, D., Noble, A., & Stergiopoulos, V. (2020). Promoting Wellness and Recovery of Young Women Experiencing Gender-Based Violence and Homelessness: The Role of Trauma-Informed Health Promotion Interventions. Violence Against Women., A., & Borah, S. (2020). Covid-19 and Domestic Violence: an Indirect Path to Social and Economic Crisis. Journal of Family Violence, 1–7.

Verulava, T., Jorbenadze, R., Bedianashvili, G., & Dangadze, B. (2020). Challenges Faced by Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: Homelessness, Education, and Employment. Euromentor Journal, 11(3), 104-116.

WIN. (2020). The Aftermath Plan: Responding to homelessness in the wake of Covid-19.

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