Homeless Hits Home: A New York City Public Opinion Poll

October 2013

Homelessness is an issue that many New Yorkers are forced to confront every day—from passing a homeless person on the sidewalk or subway to facing homelessness themselves. A basic awareness of the growing crisis is unavoidable. But in a city as large and economically diverse as New York, it stands to reason that the thought of life without stable housing weighs more heavily on some people than on others. To better understand New Yorkers’ thoughts on homelessness, the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), in conjunction with Baruch College, conducted a survey of local residents to see exactly how awareness and attitudes varied across the city.

Key Points

  • New Yorkers are evenly split on their approval of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s overall job performance, but deeply critical of his legacy on homelessness.
  • A majority (67%) of New Yorkers believe that improving job training is a better solution to homelessness than expanding rental subsidies.
  • Homelessness impacts residents of the Bronx at higher rates than those in other boroughs. Bronx residents also report more difficulty affording basic expenses.
  • Minority residents are more likely to know someone who has recently become homeless. Blacks and Hispanics are also more aware than whites of recent increases in the city’s homeless population.


Bloomberg’s Legacy

  • Only 28% of residents said they had noticed an increase in the number of homeless during Bloomberg’s tenure—a period that saw the homeless population rise by 61%, according to the NYC Department of Homeless Services.
  • Citywide, only 23% of New Yorkers approve of how Bloomberg has handled homelessness, compared with a 48% overall job performance approval rating. In Manhattan alone, Bloomberg’s approval rating plummets from 54% to 20% when only homelessness policies are considered.



A New Policy Direction? 

  • Improved job-training programs are preferred by 67% of New Yorkers as the solution to homelessness. Support for these types of programs is highest in the Bronx and Staten Island.
  • 75% of Hispanic residents and 61% of blacks favor improved job training. Citywide, only 13% of residents support rental subsidies as the solution to homelessness.
  • A majority of New Yorkers, 57%, favor implementing time limits for residents of the city’s shelters.
  • New Yorkers are split on who should be allowed in shelter: 44% want entry restricted to the local region, and 51% say it should be open to people from anywhere in the U.S. or the world.


The Bronx Factor

  • In the Bronx, 10% of residents have spent at least one night homeless or unstably housed, versus 5% citywide.
  • Residents of the Bronx are more likely to see homelessness in their everyday lives. 33% of residents of the borough know a homeless person.
  • Bronx residents report more difficulty affording basic living expenses. 28% said they are struggling to afford their rent.


Homelessness and Race

  • 39% of black New Yorkers and 28% of Hispanics know someone who has recently become homeless, compared with 13% of whites and 23% of New Yorkers of any race.

  • Blacks and Hispanics are more aware of the increase in homelessness under Bloomberg. 39% of blacks and 32% of Hispanics reported noticing an increase, compared with only 23% of whites.
  • Blacks are the only racial group in which a majority (53%) disapproves of Bloomberg’s approach to homelessness.


Survey Methodology

The ICPH public opinion survey—administered between July 2, 2013 and August 2, 2013—polled a random sample of 1,003 adults residing in New York City. Baruch College Survey Research conducted the telephone interviews by landline and cell phone in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.