The “Sightings” Process

New York City has a “right to shelter,” however thousands of people opt to instead sleep on the streets and subways, often after negative experiences within the shelter system. Those New Yorkers living unsheltered want and need to be connected to case management services in order to successfully navigate the tricky process of moving off the streets and into housing. However, to be connected to a case manager through a DHS-contracted street outreach team, they must first go through a “sightings” process.


It doesn’t make any sense. Six times just doesn’t make any sense to me. You see me carrying my stuff around. I’m not doing that just for show.

The Problem:

Many street homeless New Yorkers tell us that in order to be assigned a case manager through a DHS-contracted outreach team and begin the process of moving off the streets and into housing, they must go through a  “sightings” process. They report that this experience is one of the most confusing, frustrating, and dehumanizing parts of living on the streets and trying to secure housing.

Here’s how it works: City-contracted outreach workers canvass the streets 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  People tell us that before they can be assigned a case manager through one of the city-contracted outreach teams, they must be “sighted” sufficiently at their sleep spot to prove they are indeed homeless sleeping unsheltered. When we ask people how many times they need to be seen, the number has varied from 2-12. Most people on the streets say their understanding is that they need to be in the same location, while bedded down with their belongings, in order for the “sighting” to ‘count.’ This process must be completed before outreach teams can add a person to their caseload and assign them a case manager.

A case manager is essential for both connecting that person to a variety of  services, including transitional housing, and helping them navigate the complicated bureaucracy of city government that allows a person to eventually access permanent housing. Countless street homeless individuals feel they have to wait and hope to be “sighted” in order to be connected to case managers.

What We’re Doing About It:

At the direction of street homeless New Yorkers, we are launching a campaign to address the broken “sightings” process.

We are calling for a solution to the confusing process of obtaining case management services, whereby all street homeless individuals interested in case management services from an outreach team will have immediate access, without needing to be “sighted” on the streets an arbitrary number of times. Any necessary next steps must be explained clearly such that all parties share an understanding of how the process works.

Given the significance of being “sighted” (ie. being able to start the housing process with an outreach case manager), we believe that this process should - at the very least - be uniform and explained clearly to people on the streets.