Homeless in Tribeca: “More digits.”

A. sent a note this summer documenting the number of homeless men and women she saw on her short walk from home to the train (six); L. sent another note more recently showing cardboard shelters set up beneath scaffolds. I guess I hadn’t fully absorbed the issue until their emails — and then I woke up.

The shelter population in this city is at an insane all-time high of 62,000. (It dips a bit in the summer, but last winter and the winter before that it was at 64,000, and my guess is it will be there again come January.) One third of those – 20,000 – are kids.

There’s no doubt that the number of homeless people on the streets of Tribeca has increased, too, though experts – I spoke to the Coalition for the Homeless – can’t say why here versus any other neighborhood. It can only be linked to the bigger city problem, which they pin ultimately to the cost of housing. The city gets richer and more people end up on the street.

We have a dearth of permanent affordable housing in this city, and an even bigger problem when it comes to supportive housing for people with mental health of substance abuse issues. There are tens of thousands of units now available now, but it’s not enough; the mayor and the governor have pledged to build at least 20,000 more here in the next 15 years – though there have been delays on both the city and the state side, making that goal look dubious. Certainly people are languishing in shelters longer than ever – the average stay is now 414 days. (Another note: permanent housing is $10,000 cheaper for the city, per person, per year, than the aggregated costs of shelters, hospital stays, police encounters, etc.)

To more fully understand what’s going on here, I stopped to talk to Grace, who I’ve seen sitting against the subway entrance on the southwest corner of Chambers and West Broadway. She’s not there every day — she said she alternates with a spot on Madison in the 50s and has maintained that routine for two years. That’s how long she’s been living at a shelter on 133rd and Amsterdam.

When I asked her why here, she said succinctly, “More digits.” She’s not talking fingers and toes.

Grace said many of the women in the neighborhood are generous and have brought her food and sometimes cash. Her family, she added, is “neglectful.” And she has nowhere to go during the day: her shelter kicks her out at 9 in the morning and she can’t return till 6. (The Coalition for the Homeless said this policy changed a couple of years ago – residents don’t have to leave shelters if they don’t want to — but clearly not for Grace.) She was definitely up for chatting, and quizzed me about my favorite Disney princesses and lamented the fact that she missed her prom, but that was about the scope of it. She’s 29. It’s not hard to understand why she’s on the streets.

To help residents navigate their interactions with homeless people, the Coalition has tips on “What to do if…” on their site. Most suggest calling 311 so the city can send out an outreach worker.

I don’t see any easy solutions – for Tribeca or the city. I would love it if some of you did. And it’s sadly too easy to ignore people sitting on our streets and hustle by, or even react with anger. But I will try to take the coalition’s words to heart: “We encourage all New Yorkers to exercise empathy – to imagine what it’s like to have no home and no support network, to be cold or hungry or sick, to have hundreds of people walk by you each day and pretend you don’t exist.”



  1. It’s become a huge problem and a major safety issue that the city and NYPD has done nothing about.
    The shelter also on Lafayette is also a open sewer of rif raf.
    A lot of people no longer feel safe especially at night where people are lurking around every corner and some very aggressive or severely mentally deranged. Every block it seems in Tribeca these days has this issue and it needs to be exposed as there is no action being taken.
    Margaret Chin, CB1, DiBlasio, NYPD can’t continue to ignore this.

    • Remember, Deblasio started this. He came out against the police early in his admin. The police then swore not to run the homeless out and not enforce other laws so that Deblasio would suffer. Billy D then also did away with laws against turnstyle jumping, pissing in public, smoking pot in public amongst other horrrendous decisions. The cops have thrown up their hands and said, well, then let the people suffer if this is what they voted for. Ask any cops (I have 6 brothers in the NYPd) and they will tell you this is the problem.

      • Among these other degradations of “quality of life” and safety in NYC, traffic enforcement in recent years seems to be non-existent… Red-light running, blocking of intersections, driving while texting, speeding, reckless driving, etc. seem to be the “new normal”.

        As for the homeless, apparently many of them don’t want to stay in shelters, because they don’t feel safe there.

  2. I think No Action missed the point conveyed by the Coalition for the Homeless. Also I have not seen or heard of a spike in crime caused by the homeless, yes the homeless can sometimes be dirty and smell, but many have other issues or are “mentally deranged” as it was sorrily stated. NYC, as many other cities, has a housing crisis, and if we want to help folks find a home we’ll all need to work together to solve the problem.

  3. I no longer feel safe walking home at night near the shelter on Lafayette. I have been forced to take an Uber to my door. It’s ridiculous that the shelter is not taking responsibility for the residents and the safety of the community.

  4. The reasons for large homeless population in Tribeca
    1. The men’s homeless shelter in Lafayette
    2. The 24 hour 7/11 store open to pan-handling
    3. The 24 hour McDonalds
    4. The lack of business, and increase of deserted store fronts where homeless set up shop, since they won’t get kicked out…
    5. The increase of scaffolding, again where they can set up shop
    6. I spoke to one homeless man that usually sets up shop by West Broadway next to Boomerang he says I don’t see this as Tribeca I see it as an area that looks abandoned and no one will bother us to leave, also they feel safe in this area.
    On a side not, have you seen how dirty this neighborhood has become, is anyone regulating restaurants and residents with the amount of trash the restaurants and residents have been contributing for this area to “look” abandon. Geez look at the grease spillage on the sidewalks, the neglected trash,
    Time to do something about it, but where does one start?
    Tribeca Resident of Over 20 years

    • My QOL complaint is people not curbing their dogs- every morning (and pretty much all the time) I have to walk ever so carefully to avoid splashing in rivers & ponds of dog urine all over the sidewalk, low steps, doorways, etc. Curb used to mean having your dog do their business at the curb, in the street, and not all over the sidewalk or any metal structure they please.

    • The mayor has instructed the police to stop any efforts to remove the homeless or enforce any loitering or anti-encampment laws.

      The City has been chronically late in paying for homeless housing services, which complicates administration and continued availability of said services.

      Over 10% of the shelter population is from out of town, attracted here by de Blasio’s more generous shelter acceptance policies (versus Bloomberg’s) that exacerbate the issue, despite a doubling of the City’s homeless budget while the problem worsens.

    • The loose garbage all over the streets and sidewalks in Tribeca is horrendous. I have logged a few 311 complaints but nothing has been done. Any actionable ideas to clean up the neighborhood would be great.

  5. The blame for the homeless problem lies solely with the citizens who voted for Deblasio. They should be identified and assessed for empowering the worst Mayor in modern history of New York.

  6. Margaret Chin doesn’t care and DeBalsio plans to spend billions on shiny new prisons! In the meanwhile, DeBlasio will ruin the school system for all instead of fixing it where needed, continue to extort unions for donations and over pay his donors for derelict properties. All the while ignoring the decline in quality of life across the City and the fact that millennials, average New Yorkers and billionaires are leaving. Hello 1970’s all over again. #worstmayor #clueless

  7. My QOL complaint is the amount of construction going on in Tribeca. I wonder if there are more than ten blocks in our neighborhood that do not have some kind of barriers, lane closures, scaffolding, or other physical impediments. There is no notice given or management of the permits given out (another blessing from DeBlasio). Some four lane avenues are crowded into two. But fortunately we have those workers holding up signs saying “Slow”, as if we have any choice with all of the traffic down here.

  8. Speaking of dogs, (which I love), but what’s up with the increasing number of people bringing their dogs into Whole Foods? Sorry, but your dog relieving himself/herself in the Produce Section just isn’t cool. Asked one guy why he brought his dog in the grocery store. He replied, “What?- You don’t like dogs in the food store?” Honestly, I told him I didn’t, not while I’m buying food. He replied, “So I suppose you want to see my Comfort Service Animal Certificate?”. I said, “Sure”, at which point all color drained from his face and he walked away. Bonafide service animal? Glad you have one, great idea. “Comfort pet” for grocery shopping? I think you’re full of crap-