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East Harlem Houses 10% Of City’s Adult-Only-Shelter Residents

Opioid treatment programs are not the only social service the city has been over-concentrating in Harlem.

Homelessness is a tragic reality for thousands of New Yorkers. While the Covid-19 pandemic saw a dramatic reduction in the number of unhoused people in the city, in large part due to the eviction moratorium. But almost a year after the moratorium expired, those numbers have begun to revert as shown below:

SOURCE: NYC Open Data. More info here.

Our first priority is for every unhoused and unstably-housed person to have a safe, dignified place to call home.

But there are better and worse ways to accomplish that, and the present situation in Harlem is far from ideal, both for the neighborhood and for the shelter residents themselves.

Of all districts in the city Harlem has by far the highest number of residents in adult-only shelters relative to the local population, as shown below. These residents are predominantly male, and research shows that, compared to homeless individuals with families or children, "homeless single adults [tend to] have much higher rates of serious mental illness, addiction disorders, and other severe health problems". This is a population that needs care and compassion from the surrounding population and services—but these are resources that Harlem is already straining beyond its capacity to provide.

Data Takeaways:

  • Relative to its population, East Harlem houses the highest number of adult-only shelter residents of any district in the city--nearly 1000 per 100k residents!
  • 10% of the entire city's adult-only shelter residents reside in East Harlem alone, which only has 1.4% of NYC’s total population
  • The total number of shelter residents in Harlem is approximately the same as the total number of shelter residents in the city whose last address was in Harlem. So Harlem does not appear to be affected by an excess of shelters in general, but only of adult-only shelters in particular.

Many of these people reside in a handful of massive male-only "congregate" shelters on Randalls and Wards island, technically in the The East Harlem community district. Besides these shelters, best known for their appalling living conditions, there is almost nothing else on these islands—except for a massive wastewater treatment plant. This is not a living environment that is conducive in any way to getting back on one's feet. Instead it is degrading, and alienating.

What's more, the only public transit reaching Randalls and Wards islands is the M35 bus (see the MTA map below), which—in spite of a decade of complaints from Harlem residents—only goes as far as Lexington Avenue in Harlem! If residents of these shelters want to return to their bed at the end of the day, they cannot stray far from the streets of Harlem, and in fact many don't, which is immediately apparent to Harlem residents throughout all hours of the day.

Only the M35 Bus, shown in orange, provides public transit access to the Randalls and Wards islands shelters—and the route ends only a few blocks into East Harlem.


It is an unfortunate reality that a concentrated unhoused population can strain the resources and capacity for compassion of the people who are called upon to care for them. Outcomes can be far better if these individuals are distributed more evenly throughout a broader area, and when possible located in areas they have personal relationships with with.

The Greater Harlem Coalition asks that the city to do everything it can to improve the conditions of the Randalls and Wards Islands shelters, and to provide adequate public transportation for shelter residents to access Queens, the Bronx, and other parts of Manhattan, by increasing the length of the M35 route or adding other bus route options.

If the conditions on these islands cannot be made improved (and, with nothing there but a near-empty island and a wastewater treatment plant next door, it's hard to imagine how they could) then the city urgently needs to find more dignified accommodations for these shelter residents. They should be spread throughout the city, where the resources needed to help them thrive and find stable permanent housing are not already exhausted.

Below are a partial list of shelters in Harlem

  • Schwartz Assessment Center @ Wards Island
  • Help Support Center @ 1 Wards Island
  • Boulevard Homeless Shelter @ 2027 Lexington Avenue
  • Cecil Ivory shelter @ 149 W 132 Street
  • The Lex (Safe Haven) @ 159 East 115th Street
  • Park View Inn @ W 110th street
  • Argus Community, Inc. @ 2015-25 Madison Ave
  • Bowery Mission @ 315 E 115th Street
  • Aguila Inc @ 433 Malcolm X Blvd
  • Aguila Inc @ 2027 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd
  • Basics Inc @ 27 E 131st St, New York, NY 10037
  • Riverton Hotel @ 441 Malcolm X Vlbd (132 St)
  • Harlem House @ 175 W 137th Street
  • Volunteers of America @ 1932 2nd Avenue
  • 30 Hamilton Place @ 30 Hamilton Place (near 139th st)
  • East River Family Center @ 325 East 104th St.
  • Exodus @ 2271 Third Avenue
  • Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) @ 414 W 127th Street.
  • BRC Hope Health Home @ 2027 Lexington Avenue
  • Praxis @ 889 St. Nicholas Avenue
  • Lenox Family Center @ 141 W 144th St, New York, NY 10030
  • Holy Rosary Convent @ 448 East 119th Street
  • Greenhope Services For Women @ 435 East 119th StreetNew York, NY 10035
  • Safe Horizon @ 165 W 131 Street
  • Jennie Clark Residence (WIN) @ 183 E 100th Street
  • Private Shelter @ 203-211 West 145th St
  • Women in Need @ 141 W 144th Street
  • Women in Need @ 19 W 118th Street
  • Fox House @ 111 E 117th Street
  • Create Young Adult Residence @ W 128th Street (and Lenox)
  • Newly filed, not built yet @ 39 W 128 St