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.