Homelessness is on the rise in New York; the number of people in shelters is up 29% since last spring when state budget cuts forced the closure of a city rent-subsidy program called Advantage. Many more people can’t get access to shelters — just 35% of families applying to stay in city shelters were accepted in the past year, Gothamist recently reported.

If you’ve lived in New York for awhile, you have heard multiple people say “it seems like there are just so many more people out on the streets right now.” Perhaps you have heard it so many times that it starts to seem like just another thing that people say in New York. Are there more people on the street now? The answer to that depends on the question “More than when?”

Regardless, people seem to be more unnerved by the issue than they have been in a while. On the Upper West Side, “many” people have been calling Upper West Side councilwoman Gale Brewer complaining about aggressive panhandling. Others appear to be inquiring about why they see so many “young, white homeless persons” on Broadway. (Sorry, young black homeless people, you apparently aren’t raising as many concerns).

So Brewer wrote a letter to William Morris, commanding officer in Northern Manhattan:

Dear Chief Morris:

I have received many complaints about the increase in panhandling along Broadway on the upper  West Side. The individuals may or may not be homeless. Personally, I often see a person who may be a  man or a woman (asking for money) near West 90 Street and Broadway and several young, white homeless persons have taken up residence along Broadway. They all have similar signs, some have dogs.

This increase is a recent phenomenon, but it is not new to those of us who have lived in the  community for decades. l am willing to Work with you as you do the policing, but we can also work with  the local agencies and the Community Board on parallel approaches to address  problem.

I ìook forward to working on an action plan with you, and keeping Broadway and our other Avenues free of overly aggressive panhandling.


Gale A. Brewer

Morris wrote back earlier this month:

Dear Council Member Brewer,

I am in receipt of your letter regarding aggressive panhandling along the Broadway corridor on the upper West Side, I have contacted the Commanding Officer of the 20th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Brian McGinn and the Commanding Officer of the 24th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Nancy Barry, regarding your inquiry. Both Inspectors are aware of your concern and are exploring various approaches into handling this matter.

The Department, working in partnership with local agencies and the Community Board, strives to develop strategies to address issues such as this. You will receive a  response from the 20th and 24th Precincts. Should any other concerns arise regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to Contact me.

Thank you for your letter and I look forward to working with you in the future.


William T. Morris

We’ll keep you updated as we learn more about what specifically police officials plan to do.

What do you think? Are people asking for money in a more aggressive manner than they have in recent memory? Any thoughts on these “young, white homeless people?” Let us know in the comments. And here’s a quick and easy poll:

Are panhandlers on the UWS more agggressive now than they were 10 years ago?

View Results

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Photo by MGChan.

NEWS | 46 comments | permalink
    1. RF says:

      I’ve lived on the UWS for eight years and yes, I definitely think the problem is getting worse. The biggest change has happened within the past year. I live in the 80s, and a walk down Broadway to 72nd Street used to be a pleasant stroll; now, I spent it dodging homeless panhandlers and people with clipboards soliciting donations for one cause or another. (One day I think I counted seven or eight panhandlers within a ten block walk.) My guess is that this uptick has something to do with the number of vacant storefronts and construction sites in the neighborhood, which make it easier to set up camp without being asked to move.

      • David says:

        Interesting point about the empty storefronts. None of this would be incentivized if folks had enough self respect and respect for the homeless to give their wealth and time in a thoughtful manner (i.e. never give to someone on the street, I thought NYers by and large agreed on this since it makes sense?). Instead, we divert wealth that could be efficiently deployed to the homeless towards rebellious white kids who still own a Toyota but understand the insecurities of yuppies well enough to generate some decent cash flow.

    2. Diziet Sma says:

      Even in the last 2 years I’ve noticed an increase. Also, homeless sleeping in Central Park has increased dramatically. Early morning in the park looks like a campground in some places. The police don’t seem interested.

      As for the young, white, homeless panhandlers on Broadway, they all have the same MO. Many have dogs, glasses & similar “uniform.” There’s something club-like about their approach and demeanor, as if they all know each other.

      I do hope the city gets a grip on it because it’s changing the UWS.

    3. Henry says:

      Wow, she wrote a letter and he wrote one back. And she’s got two more on the way. Way to problem solve Gale Brewer and William T. Morris! You guys rock!

    4. Beth says:

      I always see guys (not all of the same race) set up camp to sleep overnight on the steps of the churches on Central Park West.

    5. Amy says:

      I’m in the West 90s…definitely seeing more panhandlers, though I don’t know if I’d call them “aggressive.” They rarely actually approach and ask, they just sit on the sidewalk with their signs. (Though one guy recently walked up to my table inside a Tasti-D-Lite and very politely asked for a dollar to buy a hamburger…)

      I’ve noticed the “club” too. They–some, at least–do know each other. There’s one that hangs out in front of the Starbucks near my apartment, and I’ve seen others come by with food or even to, as far as I can tell, hold his spot. Not sure what their deal is, I can’t recall seeing any of them out at night.

    6. Aaron says:

      I agree with the “club-like” comment of the white Broadway panhandlers.

      They are all of similar age and “hipster’ish” appearance, and they DO all seem affiliated with each other, as evidenced by how different people with very similar (identical?) signs will take up residence at the exact same spot(s), and yes, often with a dog. My girlfriend and I call it the “panhandling ring”. They are on Broadway in the 80s to mid-90s. IMO, it’s a total scam and these are clearly not homeless people. Wouldnt surprise me in the least if they all live in the same 2br or 3br apartment and this is paying their “rent”.

      • Amy says:

        When my stepfather was that age, he intentionally “hobo’d”–as he calls it–in San Francisco. That’s kind of the impression I get from this group, that what they’re doing is possibly a lifestyle choice. I have a feeling we won’t see much of them when it gets cold.

    7. Paul says:

      They’re all human beings and deserve help in any way possible. Stop being a bunch of cold-hearted assholes.

    8. Paris Wyoming says:

      There are also many more persons begging now for money, notably youngish white persons, some with dogs, in the W 70s and W 80s.

    9. Peter says:

      Hey Paul,

      Since you’re so warm-hearted, can you take care of my next mortgage payment? I’ll even sit on the street for a whole day and look like a pathetic loser if it makes you feel better. I’ve also got a bridge for sale.

    10. Laurie says:

      There are definitely many more panhandlers. The last several times that I’ve walked down Broadway from 91st through the 80’s and 70’s on the weekends I’ve noticed on several blocks there would be a 20ish white male or female sitting cross-legged reading a thick paperback book in front of a building, some with dogs and all with a neatly lettered sign saying that he/she was homeless.

    11. Jenn Maser says:

      The economy is an absolute trainwreck right now, and unemployment in NYC is >10%.

      • sl says:

        There are no doubt more panhandlers on the street around the subway on 96th near Chase. It is reminiscent of the 70’s and early 80’s. The panhandlers do not seem more aggressive.. . yet the numbers of people hanging out is obvious. There are more stores (‘mom and pop’) out of business, more franchises and there is an increasing sense that personal safety is on the decline. It’s sad for everyone. But it is disturbing if we are revisiting the past as it seems.


      • outragedWestSider says:

        1. these folks are mostly not New Yorkers. We NYers are not obligated to feed, house, care for , everyone who steps on within the city an demands it. sorry cannot afford to do that.

        2. how about politicians promoting job growth in our city – we have the highest taxes in the country + ridiculous red tape and restrictions ( have you tried to open and run a business here).

        3. $3,300 per month per room is not sustainable for us to pay for anymore.

        • David says:

          Yes, yes and yes. And sadly, it’s going to get worse, MUCH worse before it gets better. I’m in contract to sell my apartment and I am renting now. I love NYC and the UWS, been here for 15 years, and plan to stay my life. But I’m not betting financially on it doing very well any longer.

    12. Elias Friedman says:

      Am I the only one who noticed a correlation of the appearance of “young, white” panhandlers and the appearance of the Occupy Wall Street protest?

      And before you ask, I DO give a buck or two when asked if I can. Unfortunately I seem to get asked a LOT more when I’m dressed up for Shabbos or Yom Tov and I’m not permitted to carry money.

      • BILL says:

        Elias,you took the words right out of my mouth…..all these “panhandlers” came from other states to join the ows,but now that its fallen apart they’ve taken to the streets and its not only on the uws its downtown, and the east side also. they are all over. I thought it was just me noticing this.

      • jamal P. says:

        Elias why do you give a buck a two when asked?

        you are only encouraging the problem. You are equally guilty then for our deteriorating quality of life

        You really feel sorry for young fit white (yes i will say it) kids who clearly are making a decision that begging is a career choice?

        • David says:

          EXACTLY! THANK YOU JAMAL! And yes, it is relevant that they are white in a society that affords significant and clear privileges to people based on characteristics including race. These are losers from Ohio who don’t want to admit to the friends back home that things aren’t going exactly as planned. But instead of manning up, they are destroying our neighborhood. If they wanted to work and save, THEY ABSOLUTELY COULD. They want to drink at night and be in NYC though. Sorry, not on my dime.

          • outragedWestSider says:

            adding to the problem is the NY law that requires the City to house and shelter, (plus feed and free mediical) everyone who asks for it. So of course, the word is out with the Crusties that the free living is good here, so maybe they came for OWS but they stayed becuase of generous policies.(still startling to see them with iphones and laptops while asking for money – they have more technology in their hands now then any corporation had 15 years ago… and you are asking me for dollars?)

            So the politicians keep calling it a homeless “emergency” and we need more beds. Well, it is partially self created, we are importing them from the rest of the united states. How about some kind of residency requirement in NYC before you were homeless and encouraging moving in with family and friends.
            Unfortunately, the judges who made this law (via their rulings which are extremist to say the least), will not go for it.

            Also, Gale’s Law forced the SROs owners to rent to OTHER city agencies for the homeless. Clearly they all are in cahoots.

    13. Bayrat says:

      I don’t find the current crop of panhandlers as aggressive at all, not compared to how things were in the 1980s here. However, I do note that these “panhandlers” look more like a loosely organized small business than a random group of needy people and in that respect should be regulated just like any small business. They do, after all, take up our public space on the sidewalks and do conduct business with all of its attendant side effects.

    14. UWSParent says:

      The problem is definitely getting worse. I’m convinced (with no supporting evidence whatsosever) that the “young white” homeless are disenfranchised OWS protestors.

      • BILL says:

        absolutely correct uws parent

        • jamal P. says:

          down in the East Village ,they are known as “crusties”.

          white drug adicted kids who travel a circuit around the country mooching as they go.

          Very simple – Police officers need to rid them of the streets ASAP. We have rights to walk and enjoy our sidewalks too? no?

    15. Tamara says:

      Time for a San Francisco-esque Sit-Lie Ordinance, no sitting, lying or otherwise obstructing public walkways. And give out tickets for panhandling, duh. By the way, I have SEEN people leaving the new 95th shelter and park themselves near Symphony Space or nearby and engage in panhandling. So the City pays over 3K for them to live on Riverside Drive and then they go panhandle? Double whammy. What a joke this City has become, and my taxes pay for it.

      • westsideMoms says:

        I think their is a law on books against not laying down and no aggressive panhandling.


        the bloomberg administation does not enforce these laws.

        They did during Guiliani and it was much better. Regardless of what you think of him personally, Guilanni looked out for taxpaying law abiding New Yorkers . Now it with contempt if he dare question on our deteriorating quality of life.

      • westsideMoms says:

        The Shelters are a direct result of Gale Brewer and Linda Rosenthal’s law making budget hotels in the SROs illegal.

        Clearly it has backfired in a major way.

        Gale and linda you must do something. You have destroyed our neighborhood.

    16. OutragedWestSider says:

      Folks: please re-read Ms. Brewer’s letter. Not only is childlike in style; did you notice the subtle transgender bias? Further, she makes a point of describing them as “white”. How is that okay when we all know the uproar if pointed out they where black.

      Truly frightening that this woman represents us.

      “Personally, I often see a person who may be a man or a woman (asking for money) near West 90 Street and Broadway and several young, white homeless persons have taken up residence along Broadway. “

      • David says:

        Awww poor whitey. Give me a break. Stop race baiting. It is absolutely relevant for two reasons. First, she’s describing an illegal activity to the police in an official capacity. That they are white is important and descriptive. Second, it is important because it demonstrates they are drug addict losers WITH CERTAINTY. Noone held back these losers. They’re just losers.

        • outragedWestSider says:

          David – my intent was not to race bait.

          but are actually saying that the decription “white” means that they are drug addicts? So black or others who panhandle are not drug addicts?

          • David says:

            I don’t really care to go down that path with you, but I will say it’s clear we both agree the UWS is falling apart because of poorly conceived public policy. It’s OK though, sell now, and go apartment hunting in 5 – 15 years after this insanity is its apex. We’ll all be able to buy sick central park west apartments for a song! God bless the idiots who naturally take charge and destroy NYC every 25-30 years!

    17. ItsAScam says:

      Yesterday there were 3 very drunk guys leaving Riverside Park, they commenced to stop traffic at 95th and Riverside screaming at drivers and scaring residents with their children who were just trying to cross the street. They went into the new shelter on 95th. A neighbor followed them in and had words with “security”. He was shocked to see several clients with iPhones, and one walked out to his car parked out front-with CT plates. I can’t afford 3K a month for an apt. It disgusts me that the City pays 3K a month for someone from CT, with an iPhone and car, who spends his day drinking in the park and scaring motorists, so he can have a warm bed on Riverside Drive. Makes my blood boil. And seriously, who pays the monthly iPhone service bill? I have a cheapo Verizon phone from 3 years ago. Maybe panhandling money. I wonder if I can borrow that guy’s car to go to Costco.

      • outragedWestSider says:

        thank you Itsascam.

        Can you believe that we are paying for this? Enough is enough.

        The city policies make this life time democrat feel like voting for Mitt (which I won’t)….but this is ridiculous.

        Where is Bloomberg and the mainstream media on this?

        New York Times did an editorial this week under something like “children in shelters” to gain sympathy for an increase in funds to house families. No mention that NYC cannot turn away anyone by law – even out of towners- and that some parents abuse the system by going to the shelters to skip the line for subsidized housing – not one sentence about it.. and we all pay for it with the highest taxes in the nation, and our streets are dirty, the schools cannot teach and crime is getting worse.

        Help. I see a return to Dinkins NYC

    18. Marie says:

      The favored approach by Upper West Side public officials is to cut overpriced contracts with a homeless industrial complex developer and pay them $3400/month to house homeless people in substandard housing. The closed storefronts are because when you kick tourists out of SRO buildings and bring in people who don’t get enough in food stamps to buy food, they can’t spend money in the stores. And the higher number of homeless people is from an utterly failed homeless policy that does nothing to get people in to long-term housing, and terrifies affordable housing residents who are now forced to share bathrooms with violent people and addicts. And not everyone who thinks NYC homeless policy sucks is a cold hearted asshole. Maybe coldhearted toward crooked developers and blockheaded politicians.

      • David says:

        AMEN. I thought I was alone and noone else “got it”. This blog shows we are ALL progressive people who “get it”.

    19. NikFromNYC says:

      Flashcrowd networked AstroTurf? Weren’t these kids promised that putting graffiti on an upside down urinal was worth a million a year? Fancy it, that when their student loans bankrupted their whole family, they headed to the Big Apple.

    20. Jeremy says:

      Like everyone else, I’ve noticed more panhandlers, but haven’t seen them be aggressive in any way. Frankly, I much prefer them just sitting there to that idiot who played the trumpet up and down Broadway, asking for money.

    21. CB says:

      It’s disgusting how many vagrants loiter in the West 80’s and 90’s. What was once a pleasant walk is now pretty annoying, especially for kids. Looking forward to moving downtown when the lease is up.

    22. Megan says:

      I have a huge problem with the ones that have dogs. I’m surprised no one has taken up with ” why do you have a pet if you can’t take care of yourself” I waited years to have my own dog because of costs ( vet bills, food, shots,) find that I feel more sorry for these dogs then I do the panhandlers. It might be heartless but I feel the dogs deserve nice warm homes, and something should be done about that.

    23. jim says:

      brewer is such an imbecile as uws’rs know. That she needed to delineate that there is a proliferation of white homeless,implies that only NOW it’s problematic to her phoney baloney liberal ilk(and I am not a, Republican.

    24. js says:

      Since the shelters came to 95th St. last year, in addition to disruptive noise and shouting on the block at all hours, I have in fact been panhandled (I don’t know that I would say “aggressively,” but let’s say, not in a particularly friendly way) on West End Avenue, on a quiet stretch of Riverside Drive, and outside my apartment building on 95th Street, both when leaving and approaching the building. Panhandling has always been standard on Broadway, but it struck me that this was the first time in many years that I’d encountered it, in any form, in any of these particular locations.

    25. stephanie says:

      It’s getting still worse, and in part I’m sure it’s the heroine epidemic. The reason people notice young white men especially is that they are probably the most employable in our still-ignorant society. Most of the young white men now living on the streets in my work neighborhood don’t look like typical homeless people. They do not appear to be suffering from mental disabilities for instance, and whil I don’t know if they come from underpriveeleged homes or neighborhoods, my feeling is still that a young white man is always favored in this culture whether or not he is due that respect. I’m personally really pissed off about it. Many of them now have “rescued” pittbulls with them. And as an animal rescuer myself who can provide for her animals that always makes me crazy. The whole thing is egregious. If they are addicts they need to taken to detox and then mandated to AA/NA meetings.