Coalition Testifies on Shelter Accommodations and Services for Those With Disabilities
Last week, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction on shelter accommodations and services for those with disabilities. People with disabilities disproportionately experience poverty and severe rent burdens, and many of the 61,697 people sleeping in shelters each night have medical, psychiatric, or cognitive disabling conditions. The Council hearing emphasized that the Department of Homeless Services must meet the needs of people with disabilities in the shelter system, and also that the City must increase the supply of affordable, accessible permanent housing so New Yorkers with disabilities can move out of shelters and into homes of their own.
The testimony also highlighted the landmark Butler v. City of New York lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of clients of The Legal Aid Society, Coalition for the Homeless, and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York. The Butler settlement reached last year will better ensure that people with disabilities are able to access DHS shelters and receive reasonable accommodations consistent with laws governing them. As we testified:
In May 2015, The Legal Aid Society sued the City of New York and DHS on behalf of two clients who were attempting to enter an adult family shelter but were unable to do so because DHS did not accommodate their respective disabilities. On August 3, 2016, Legal Aid amended the complaint to include five additional named plaintiffs as well as the Coalition for the Homeless and Center for Independence of the Disabled New York (CIDNY) as institutional plaintiffs. The case was also converted to a class action on behalf of all disabled New Yorkers who were residing in or had attempted to enter shelters. After extensive settlement negotiations and a Fairness Hearing before Judge Sweet in the Southern District of New York, the Stipulation of Settlement was signed and became effective on December 7, 2017, and will remain under the Court’s jurisdiction for at least five years.
The Butler settlement mandates the City to retrofit existing facilities and include these accommodations at future shelters to ensure accessibility for homeless New Yorkers with disabilities, and to ensure that accessible shelters are not segregated in any one part of the city. In order to comply with the agreement, the City will likely have to replace many older, non-compliant shelters and offices with new facilities, providing a further rationale for Mayor de Blasio’s proposed citywide shelter plan. The Butler settlement was designed to accommodate the various stages of a complex, large-scale, systemic overhaul of New York City’s shelter system. The various stages of the plan build upon one another over a five-year period, and the settlement includes specific milestones and deadlines that dictate how and when the changes are made.
Generally, the settlement requires the City to:
- Provide reasonable accommodations to ensure meaningful access to homeless shelters;
- Survey existing shelters and offices to identify barriers to access;
- Make accessible shelters available where people need them, so that people with disabilities are not segregated from the general population;
- Ensure that emergency plans recognize the particular needs of people with disabilities;
- Develop procedures to secure the shelter placements of residents who are hospitalized;
- Retrain staff consistent with the City’s legal obligations;
- Provide communication accommodations for individuals who are seeing- or hearing-impaired;
- Modify existing procedures to ensure they do not discriminate against people with disabilities; and
- Assess the expected demand for shelter by people with disabilities and develop a plan to provide sufficient shelter to meet that demand.
As Legal Aid continues to monitor the City’s compliance with the settlement over the coming years, Plaintiffs have the ability to assist advocates when their clients are unable to access shelters or obtain reasonable accommodations at all, or in a timely manner. Advocates should contact us at ButlerCase@legal-aid.org to receive the form for clients to obtain informal relief as the settlement period continues.
The full testimony can be read here.