57,000 New Yorkers Are Homeless, But a New Grassroots Group Could Change That

BySoheil Rezayazdi

Late last year, a group of advocates, faith leaders, service providers, and homeless individuals gathered to discuss a single, startling number: 57,000.

That’s the number of people who now spend their nights in homeless shelters or on the streets of New York City. It’s a vast number, and it only begins to capture a larger, disquieting truth: There are more homeless people in our city now than at any other moment in recorded history.

My coworkers at the Supportive Housing Network of New York joined activists from over a dozen NYC nonprofits to form United to End Homelessness, a grassroots coalition to highlight homelessness in 2013 – the year New York picks its next mayor. The coalition formally launched last Tuesday on the steps of City Hall. More than 250 people came out to pack the City Hall steps and call on New York’s next mayor to prioritize ending homelessness.

I decided to join the campaign for two reasons.

First, I think United to End Homelessness will allow hundreds of disparate nonprofits and faith-based groups to speak in a unified voice this election season. Together, these lone voices can create a real chorus – one that will draw the attention of New York’s mayoral candidates, City Council candidates, and media outlets. The coalition has released a set of specific policy proposals to guide the next administration’s homelessness agenda. To date, more than 120 organizations have endorsed this policy platform.

Second, I joined the campaign because I have enormous faith in the homelessness and housing advocates of New York City. These are the people I work alongside everyday. They are, without fail, smarter than me. I remain in awe of their ability to navigate the byzantine worlds of affordable and supportive housing development, homelessness prevention, and housing policy. It’s an acronym-heavy universe that makes most heads throb. And yet they go about this wonky business, day after day, with an almost superhuman level of empathy for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. If anyone has the policy solutions to lower that 57,000 number, it’s the experts who crafted the United to End Homelessness policy platform.

Since joining the campaign, I’ve developed the organization’s website and produced the above video about the coalition.

If, like me, you’re also dismayed by our city’s record level of homelessness, there are plenty of ways to get involved this election year. Those who work at nonprofits can endorse our platform on behalf of their employer. You can also volunteer your time or services. As a grassroots coalition with little in the way of revenue, we value anyone who’s willing to aid our cause. To produce the website and video, for example, I called on no fewer than six of my friends to loan A/V equipment, provide services pro bono, and donate creative works like pieces of music and photographs. I remain indebted to them all.

We’ve got 8 long months until the election in November. A lot can happen in that time. Email me at srezayazdi@shnny.org if you’d like to get involved.

An earlier version of this article appeared at The Narrator