Bloomberg Pushes to Deny Shelter to Homeless Adults, Even on Freezing Cold Nights

This week’s arctic cold is a reminder that, during extreme weather conditions, lack of shelter from the elements can literally be a death sentence. Nonetheless, Mayor Bloomberg and his administration continue to push forward a plan to deny emergency shelter to thousands of homeless adults each year.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg administration lawyers were in State appellate court seeking to overturn a trial court order blocking the Mayor’s harsh shelter denial plan proposed in November 2011. Tuesday’s arguments in the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, First Department, were covered by NY1 Newsthe Daily News, and Capital New York. You can read our legal brief here.

In New York City Council testimony back when the rules were first proposed, Bloomberg’s homeless services commissioner, Seth Diamond, said that under the Mayor’s plan the City would deny emergency shelter to between 10 and 60 percent of all homeless single adults seeking shelter. In the last City fiscal year, 17,872 homeless adult entered the shelter system. That means that, under Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed rules, the City would potentially deny emergency shelter to more than 10,000 men and women each year – including on the coldest nights of the year.

The City Council joined the legal case opposing the City’s rules, arguing that they violate the City Charter’s requirements that new policies be subject to public review and comment. This week City Council Speaker Christine Quinn compared the Bloomberg administration’s homeless policy to former Mayor Giuliani’s mean-spirited and failed policies:

“They were going to do this in a way that I believe is only going to result in more homeless individuals sleeping on the streets overnight,” Quinn said.

Last year, a lower court sided with the council, saying the city did not give the public enough notice of the change.

“They made a change that the mayor is simply not allowed to do unilaterally,” Quinn said.

On bitterly cold days and nights like New York has experienced this week, homelessness and lack of shelter are literally a matter of life and death. Our legal challenge cited evidence from medical experts that cold weather can lead to major injuries, including loss of limbs, and even death.

It is therefore unconscionable that Mayor Bloomberg continues to push for rules that would, as we testified more than a year ago, deny homeless women and men shelter from the elements:

• Even when a family member with whom the homeless person lived in the past states verbally and in writing that the person can no longer live in their home;

• Even when an outreach worker or police officer escorts the homeless person to an intake shelter but the Department claims the person has “not cooperated” with an eligibility investigation;

• Even when the homeless person is unable to provide a complete one-year “housing history”;

• Even when the homeless person attempts to document his or her one-year housing history, but the family or friend with whom s/he resided refuses to cooperate with the Department’s eligibility investigation;

• Even when the homeless person, who may suffer from a mental or physical impairment, fails to undergo an evaluation for such an impairment;

• Even when the Department claims that the homeless person’s other “housing option” is another person’s public housing apartment (or some other subsidized housing) and the homeless person’s residency jeopardizes the primary tenant’s subsidized housing;

• Even when DHS investigators have never visited an alleged “housing option” to see if it is actually available and/or suitable to meet the needs of the homeless person;

• Even when the homeless person is unable to produce documentation of their income or past housing history;

• Even when DHS makes a mistake in determining the homeless person’s eligibility for shelter but the homeless person cannot re-apply for shelter because s/he cannot produce “new evidence”; and

• Even when the “housing option” identified by DHS is unsafe but the homeless person has allegedly failed to provide evidence of the safety hazards.