Out-of-Towners Flock to NYC Homeless Shelters

An increasing number of families entering New York City's homeless shelters are not from the city. According to city records, the number of out-of-town families applying for shelter has risen 48 percent over the past four years.

The city's Homeless Services show that 2,053 families from outside the Big Apple sought shelter last year compared to 1,390 in 2008.  Tens of thousands of families seek shelter each year and according to the city, out of town families typically account for around 9 percent of all applicants.

Commissioner Seth Diamond told the Daily News that the city's "right to shelter" law affords housing to everyone. The shelter system is at an all time high and the increase in out of town applicants may be adding to that.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg Tuesday added that the city really has no other choice, noting that a judge has said everyone has a right to shelter. 

“You don’t have to be a citizen of New York. You don’t have to have been here for any particular length of time. If you are here you have a right to shelter as specified by the constitution as interpreted by the courts."

Vida Chavez-Downes, who heads a Bronx shelter facility, says she sees more people than ever arriving directly from the airport.

But the Coalition for the Homeless says the vast majority of homeless shelter residents are from right here in New York City, and that their numbers have grown in recent years.

Bloomberg did say the city has been taking steps to try and alleviate the problem. "If they have any place where the have family members to live with, we even pay for their transportation, which is a heck of a lot cheaper than putting them up," he said.

Since 2007, it has paid a one-way fare for 2,654 singles and families to 24 states and five continents.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services says the top five places families have been relocated to are Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Colby Hamilton, Cindy Rodriguez and the Associated Press contributed reporting.