Helms School of Government


Doctor of Philosophy


Greg Mathison, Sr.


homelessness, funding, accessibility, availability, COVID-19 pandemic


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


Homelessness has been an ongoing public health crisis in major cities throughout the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the country’s social service and healthcare system, thus worsening the conditions faced by over half a million homeless Americans. This study aimed to determine whether the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the number of homeless individuals, funding for homeless services and homelessness prevention, and availability of social services. To answer these questions, this study conducted a thorough secondary data analysis of New York City’s publicly available data as well as primary research conducted by the Coalition for the Homeless. Additionally, this study conducted 10 interviews with social service providers from various professional backgrounds who had served the homeless community in varying capacities since the start of the pandemic. The findings revealed the following: (1) Homeless single adults seeking shelter within DHS-funded shelters gradually increased from FY19 to FY21; (2) funding fluctuated from FY19 to FY22 due to the awarding and expiration of several emergency funding streams; and (3) access to services was disrupted, leaving many homeless individuals struggling to meet their needs. These findings indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the homeless single adult population in New York City overall, and also that city and state responses during times of crisis need to improve. Given the gaps in the literature and the response from government agencies, this study recommended that further research is conducted to examine the relationship between homelessness and public health emergencies. It also recommended active collaborations between researchers and decision-makers for addressing the root causes of homelessness—not just the symptoms.