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NYC Shelter System


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Various forms of shelter have been offered to homeless people throughout the history of New York City. However, there was no recognized legal right to shelter until it was secured for single men in 1979 by the Callahan v. Carey lawsuit, a class action lawsuit brought by the Coalition for the Homeless against New York City and New York State. Callahan was settled as a consent decree in 1981, which established the right to shelter for all homeless men in New York City, as well as the minimum standards the City and State must maintain in adult shelters, including basic health and safety standards. The right to shelter was extended to homeless single women in the 1982 Eldredge v. Koch lawsuit (also brought by the Coalition for the Homeless), which was ultimately consolidated in the Callahan decree.

Until the Legal Aid Society brought the McCain litigation in 1983, New York City placed homeless families with children in dangerous “welfare” hotels and armories. In 1986 the Appellate Division of the NYS Supreme Court ordered the City to provide emergency housing to homeless families with children and prohibited the city from consigning homeless families to remain overnight in welfare offices. In 2008, after more than 20 years of litigation, the City agreed to a settlement guaranteeing the legal right to shelter and that shelters must be decent and habitable. The City now runs its own shelters but also contacts with hotels, landlords, and not- for-profit providers to meet its obligations.


New York City created the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in 1993 and made it a Mayoral agency in 1999. DHS directly operates or contracts with providers of shelter for families with children, adult families, as well as single adults.

NYC’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) operates or contracts with providers of shelter for survivors of domestic violence. HRA’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) administers emergency housing and services for homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. The City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) operates shelters for people made homeless by fire, flood or vacate order. The City’s Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) administers shelter and services for homeless teenagers and young adults.

DHS, HPD and HRA are supervised by the State’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). OTDA inspects shelters, issues regulations and other procedures governing them, and approves the procedures and operating plans of the City’s shelters and programs.

The federal government is not directly involved in the City’s shelter system, but it does provide assistance and support for various programs through various federal agencies, including the Veterans Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Education.


The DHS shelters are funded by City, State and federal tax levy dollars.

Summary of the NYC Shelter System

New York City has a legal obligation to provide decent shelter to every homeless person. The City has chosen to create separate shelter systems for single adults, families with children, and childless couples through its Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Applicants to the NYC shelter system must be homeless. There are no citizenship/immigration or residency eligibility requirements; however there are financial criteria by which family applicants will be evaluated (not, however, for single adults). Families with children, as well as families without dependent children, seeking shelter must apply for Cash Assistance (CA). However, if the applicant family is not income eligible for CA, HRA will open a “single issuance” case, allowing the City to pay for shelter expenses; the family, however, will not be eligible to receive a cash grant from CA. While single adults are not required to open a CA case, if a single adult does not have another source of income, s/he will usually be required to open a CA case as part of his/her Independent Living Plan, a document that establishes how the shelter resident will work towards the goal of living independently, including finding permanent housing.

Where people apply for shelter depends on whether the applicant is a family with children under 21, an adult family or a single adult. Families with children under 21 apply at the PATH office (Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing) in the Bronx. Adult families apply at the Adult Family Intake Center in Manhattan, and single adults apply at adult intake centers, dependent on gender.

Other Benefits Under the NYC Shelter System


A family facing imminent danger due to domestic violence may be eligible for placement in an emergency shelter, which would provide safety from the batterer. HRA provides funding for these services through the Office of Domestic Violence and Emergency Intervention Services. See below, Domestic Violence Shelters.


Tenants in NYC that are displaced because of government issued vacate orders as a result of disaster or catastrophe, such as a fire, are entitled to relocation assistance while their apartment is repaired. See below, Relocation Assistance for Displaced Tenants (Vacate Orders).


The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) funds programs for runaway and homeless youth. Go to for information on programs and services for homeless youth.