Census Shows 400% Rise in People Who Count Central Park as Home; The Reason Isn’t Straightforward

By Brendan Rascius

The latest Census report showed a surprising jump in inhabitants of one well-known New York address — Central Park. But why exactly the numbers rose so much is something of a mystery.

There are 129 people living in Central Park, according to the 2020 United States Census, a more than 400% increase since the 2010 Census, when 25 individuals reported living there. At least 90 towns in Texas reported having fewer residents than Manhattan’s largest park.

Who are these self-professed denizens of the famous grove?

An official from the US Census Bureau’s New York office said that, “112 of the (129) people were counted in other non-institutional facilities,” which include homeless shelters, vehicles, tent encampments, and other “non-sheltered outdoor locations.”

There are no homeless shelters in the park, and it’s not entirely clear whether the people marked down as residents are homeless. The Census Bureau did not have an answer to the question of how people in the park had filled out the Census — whether, for instance, someone had walked around the park handing out forms. Several park employees declined to comment on whether the people listed as residents might be homeless. People who live near the park were more forthcoming.

Sam Landa, an undergraduate at Columbia University who lives on Central Park West, said he frequently notices people on the outskirts of the park. “I would almost always see someone sleeping on the benches right alongside the park if I came home at night. I’ve definitely seen people in the park as well but not as consistently,” Landa said.

Kendyl Tabshey, a customer support specialist who regularly exercises in Central Park, also noticed homeless people on benches.

“I only really began to notice it when Covid started,” Tabshey said.

Michael, a 38-year-old New Yorker who regularly sleeps on benches in the North Woods section of the park, said it’s a convenient place to stay. “Nobody bothers me here.” He said he did not remember filling out the 2020 census. He also declined to provide his last name.

One city employee challenged the accuracy of the census results. “Due to the very small numbers found in this census tract, any statistics for Central Park might not be reliable enough to draw any conclusions from,” said an official in the Department of City Planning. “It’s not possible to disentangle reality from artificial noise when considering changes of less than 300 (people).” Stephen Eide, a social policy researcher at the conservative Manhattan Institute, also advised against “trying to draw firm conclusions from street homeless data.”

While the number of unsheltered residents in the park is disputed, citywide homelessness in the past several years has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. According to the coalition, the number of homeless single adults is 107% higher than it was ten years ago and three quarters of the homeless single adults are men.

Daniel Herman, a professor at Hunter College who researches homelessness, partly attributes the rise in the city’s homeless population to a lack of affordable housing. “Even though there has been significant progress in development of supportive housing slots for single adults with mental health and other disabilities, the problem is that the increase in supply in PSH (permanent supportive housing) and other affordable housing options does not meet the growing demand,” said Herman.

Central Park is not the only green space in the city supporting permanent residents. According to the Census, 122 people reported living in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and 12 in Rockaway Community Park in Queens.

Residents in and outside of the city’s parks won’t be officially counted again until 2030.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Truth and Reason says:

      I have to wonder how homelessness statistics have been skewed by all those who lived in the subway having to come above ground during corona. Not that homelessness isn’t on the rise or a major problem – just that I wonder if it wasn’t undercounted before. When people who normally live on the train or in a station had to come above when the subway closed overnight, we could better visibly understand as a city how many there were. If you lived on the B, for example, and you couldn’t sleep there anymore, wouldn’t you just go in the park?

      • Say what is in your mind says:

        I question the reason for investing in the statistic? They go where they aren’t bothered. Is this what the city wants? Should the park be turned into a community for unhoused people? Otherwise, what is the point?

      • Lianne Ritchie says:

        “Are there no prisons?..No Work Houses? The Dead Mill and the Poor Law?”

        A CHRISMAS CAROL
        Charles Dickens 1843..

    2. Steevie says:

      You’ve got that street, “Central Park West”. If the speaker or writer leaves out the word “West”, it may sound like he lives in the Central Park.

    3. Carlos says:

      It is sad that people are wasting their lives away. Those who are not mentally capable should be put in a supportive environment – use Kendra’s law to make it happen. That place doesn’t have to be in NYC, which is the most expensive place to provide it.

      Those who can work should be working – there are parts of America desperate for workers to fill critical jobs. If someone is capable of working, they should work, wherever that job might be.

      • Will says:

        What are the benefits of most jobs? What is the hourly pay? Sick time? PTO? Will it destroy your lower back, wrists, neck, or ankles? “There are many jobs looking for employees” doesn’t mean people aren’t looking, they just aren’t interested in working for peanuts anymore. A lot of people would rather live on the street than go back to a dead end job, that’s how desperate things are today.

        • Carlos says:

          You would really rather be homeless than have a job? Though some jobs admittedly are very difficult, many of the openings are service jobs that are not ideal, but they are not torture. And though they not be in the perfect location, they are in decent places.

          There are a lot of people in the world who are “under-employed.” But they have enough pride and work ethic to get a job so they can at least try to be self-supporting.

          • Ian Alterman says:

            as I’m sure you know, there is a great deal of mental illness associated with homelessness, so it is not always possible to get work, even if they want to. As well, even if they are capable of working, it is extremely difficult to find and maintain work without an address.

            There are other reasons as well. Instead of begin so judgmental, consider that people less fortunate than you have issues that you cannot possibly understand. But you CAN accept them and express compassion.

            • Carlos says:

              I was responding to his comment about those who were opting out of working. Did you read my initial post? I clearly differentiated between those who can work and those who can’t.

              And for those who can’t, having them rot away in a park is not compassionate. Compassion would involve getting them the best resources possible at a reasonable cost. And if that is best done outside of NYC for those with no ties to NYC, then that is what should be done.

              In your efforts to prove how self-righteous and compassionate you are, you are constantly being rude to anyone who dares disagree with you. It is the woke version of Trumpism.

    4. B.B. says:

      What is now called Central Park once was Seneca Village, home to hundreds who lived in shacks, shanties and other housing.

      Indeed well into 1920’s there were still shacks and shanties in northern most reaches of then still new CP.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_Village

    5. B.B. says:

      During Great Depression there where shanty-towns (Hoovervilles) in many NYC parks including Central Park.

      https://www.insider.com/new-york-central-park-hooverville-great-depression-photos-2020-9

      Over decades plantings and greenery have filled in much of Central Park. That hasn’t changed fact people still call place “home”, especially during warmer times of year.

      This is one reason for not wandering about the more wooded areas of CP late/over night.

      Yes LE patrols park overnight, but they confine themselves to drives and some paths while in motor vehicles. No one goes into the woods proper, and I can’t say I blame them.

    6. John Bonhomme says:

      I knew a homeless guy once. A reporter saw him in a refrigerator box and filmed him. Next thing he was living in a homeless shelter on Houston Street. The drug and crack addicts kept him awake at night. He complained. They moved him to a studio apartment. (Section 8 and all those great things) He dressed well with all the discard s his neighbors threw away. He began to complain again,(a hoarder next door), He was moved to another apartment, a 2 bedroom with a river view. Next thing may be Trump Tower, or even the White House. you never know.

      • Lianne Ritchie says:

        The Trump Tower?..Why not? ..They’ve recently housed a worse resident haven’t they..Gone but never forgotten or forgiven.

    7. RobbieTheK says:

      I like Sliwa’s idea to ship ’em up state. Vote!

      • Elizabeth says:

        “ship ’em upstate’?

        You do know you are talking about people; actual human beings, right? Your comment suggests that you regard people who are homeless as inanimate objects.

        Go outside and talk to some of the people living on our streets. Maybe you will develop some empathy towards your fellow human beings.

    8. JerryV says:

      How can we be certain that they are not counting squirrels in their surveys.

    9. js says:

      It is important to note that some individuals homeless in NYC are from out of town – they came to NYC with few resources and stayed. Some have mental health problems and/or substance abuse problems.

      Far from family/friends, much more difficult to address significant underlying issues etc.

      • B.B. says:

        Or they come/came to New York because things are far better here than most other parts of USA.

        New York is one of few places where housing is a “right” by law. It the only state constitutionally mandated to provide for the poor.

    10. Marci says:

      Am I the only one who is amazed that 129 people who live in the park actually filled out the census?

      • Suzanne says:

        Census workers worked 1 specific night counting homeless. I was in a group of 4 census workers, we had specific streets assigned to walk and fill out census questionnaire for homeless. If the homeless did not respond, we marked the location and any other identifying information if possible. Some homeless I recorded were chatty, others silent. I worked 96th to 145th including small parks that night. Other groups were assigned to Central Park.

    11. Tom says:

      Lots of homeless just on the other side of the stone walls surrounding the park. Suppose it gives them privacy since can’t be seen from streets or most park walkways etc.

    12. Yvonne Heavlow says:

      REVERSE THE ECONOMY AND MAKE FREE HOUSING FOR ALL

    13. Anonymous says:

      On the upside, the vast majority of our homeless people on the UWS are very friendly.