For three decades, Coalition for the Homeless has sought to protect the rights of homeless New Yorkers through groundbreaking litigation. Coalition legal victories have secured the right to vote for homeless individuals and have protected homeless New Yorkers living with mental illness and HIV/AIDS.
Callahan v. Carey (1979)
Eldredge v. Koch (1982)
Callahan v. Carey is the original right to shelter lawsuit filed in 1979 on behalf of homeless men, and Eldredge was filed subsequently on behalf of homeless women. Learn more about these cases and other right to shelter legal victories here and on our timeline.
Seide v. Prevost (1982)
In Seide, groups representing patients at Manhattan Psychiatric Center sued to prevent the State and City from operating a shelter for homeless men on the grounds of the hospital. The Coalition, representing the homeless men residing in the Keener Building shelter located on Wards Island, intervened arguing that homeless individuals do not pose a danger to the hospital patients. The court ruled in favor of the homeless men. Coalition for the Homeless represented the intervenors in this case.
Klostermann v. Cuomo (1984)
Heard v. Cuomo (1987)
Koskinas v. Boufford (1987)
The Klostermann case, brought against State officials, sought supportive housing in the community for some 6,000 former state psychiatric patients who were homeless. The case was initially dismissed by the trial court and the State’s intermediate appellate court, but, in March 1984, the Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court, ruled that the judiciary should enforce the rights of homeless mentally ill individuals and held that the lack of State funds is not a defense for failure to protect such rights. The State then renewed its efforts to dismiss the case on the grounds that it owes no duty to homeless mentally ill individuals. The Court found that the plaintiffs had stated a legitimate claim against the State.
In December 1987 two new cases – one against the State hospital system and the other against the City’s hospitals – were filed to pursue expanded Klostermann claims. In both of these cases, Heard v. Cuomo and Koskinas v. Boufford, the trial court held against the City, while dismissing the claims against the State. The Koskinas litigation is currently being overseen by the Urban Justice Center.
Koster v. Webb (1982)
This case was filed in the fall of 1982 by a group of homeless families in Nassau County alleging that the County failed to provide them with decent emergency shelter. In an initial ruling, the court found that homeless families in New York State do have a right to shelter under the Federal Social Security Act, the first time a Federal court has recognized such a right. In 1985, the court certified Koster as a class action. In 1987, Nassau County, New York State, and plaintiffs reached an agreement settling the suit. The Federal district court approved this settlement. Under the agreement, Nassau County is obligated to provide safe shelter that meets specific standards to all homeless families in need. Lawyers from Coalition for the Homeless, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Nassau-Suffolk Legal Services represented the plaintiffs in the case.
Pitts v. Black (1984)
This case ensured the right to vote for homeless New Yorkers. A group of homeless people sued the State and City Boards of Election because homeless people residing in shelters, hotels, or on the streets were not permitted to register to vote. Before trial, a consent decree was entered permitting homeless people in shelters to vote. In October 1984, the Federal district court ordered election officials to permit persons living on the streets to register to vote. A two week extension of the time for the homeless to register to vote in the 1984 election was also ordered by the district court. The City noticed, and then withdrew, its appeal of the case.
Wilkins v. Perales (1985)
This action, brought by a group of homeless persons who resided in municipal shelters, sought to compel the State to enforce several of its own regulations regarding the operation of homeless shelters. Specifically, plaintiffs sought an injunction ordering the State to prohibit a shelter from maintaining a capacity of over 200 persons or from crowding more than 30 beds in any one sleeping room. In April of 1984, over 1,400 men slept in a single room in one City operated shelter. In early 1985, the State Supreme Court held that the State had wrongly given a de facto waiver to the City of the regulation limiting the size of the shelters.
Palmer v. Cuomo (1985)
This case was brought by a group of homeless young people under the age of 21 who were discharged from foster care onto the streets. The plaintiffs sought care until age 21 as well as the education and training, while in foster care, needed to live independently. In granting a preliminary injunction to plaintiffs in July 1985, the court held that foster children are entitled to care until age 21 and to “career counseling and training in a marketable skill or trade.” The Appellate Division affirmed that ruling. New York State subsequently issued regulations defining this responsibility.
Grant v. Cuomo (1986)
This case successfully sought to require New York City to provide basic protective and preventive services to needy children. State law mandates that reports of suspected incidents of child abuse or neglect be investigated within 24 hours. Often, that was not done. In addition, children in danger of maltreatment or at risk of being placed in foster care were routinely denied a host of family support services. This action also sought to compel City and State officials to provided sufficient protective services to children in need.
In May 1986, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that City officials (1) must investigate all allegations of the maltreatment of children within 24 hours; and (2) must provide preventive services that a caseworker considers useful in avoiding the need to place a child in foster care. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling on the issue of protective services but reversed with respect to preventive services. In December 1988, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision, holding that the defendants were not statutorily required to provide preventive services.
Baby Jennifer v. Koch (1986)
This class action was brought against New York State and City officials by a group of several hundred healthy infants, known as “boarder babies,” who were living on hospital wards simply because public officials claimed they could find no foster homes for these infants, most of whom had been abandoned by drug-addicted mothers. A final judgment by consent was entered mandating that the City develop sufficient foster care placements with families and cease to leave children in hospitals.
Mixon v. Grinker (1988)
This class action lawsuit demanded that medically-appropriate housing – including, at a minimum, private sleeping accommodations and private sanitary facilities – be provided to all homeless persons in New York City who are seropositive for HIV. According to the suit, conditions in municipal shelters and the streets endanger persons whose immune systems are compromised by the AIDS virus. In January 1989, a State Supreme Court judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering the defendants to provide the named plaintiff with a residential placement that would not be injurious to his health.
Coalition for the Homeless v. Jensen (1992)
This case also involved voting rights for homeless shelter residents. The local board of elections rejected the applications of 240 residents of Camp LaGuardia, a municipal shelter for homeless men located in Orange County, New York, and required that they give testimony in court. More than one hundred residents appeared in court and were accepted as voters. The State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Second Department, overruled the trial court’s decision reflecting the other applicants. Holding that the applicant must be given an opportunity to show officials that they are residents, the court stated that the board officials did not take reasonable, good faith steps to determine true residency of these homeless individuals. The applications of all the Camp LaGuardia residents were subsequently accepted and their ballots counted for the election.
Archie v. Grand Central Partnership (1995)
This class action lawsuit demanded back wages for a group of several hundred homeless individuals who were paid around one dollar per hour while working for the Grand Central Partnership, a midtown Manhattan business improvement district. The plaintiffs worked as security guards, kitchen staff, and custodial staff for the BID, and many worked more than forty hours per week. A Federal court judge ruled that the BID had violated the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Federal and State minimum wage laws, and ordered that the BID pay back wages to the workers. After delaying for five years, in October 2000 a settlement was reached in which the BID agreed to pay $816,000 in back wages to the workers. Coalition for the Homeless was assisted by Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, who were the pro bono counsel, and by the Urban Justice Center.
Butler v. City of New York (2017)
The Butler v. City of New York class action lawsuit was brought to ensure that people with disabilities are able to meaningfully access Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters and services. Before Butler, many DHS shelters failed to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making it difficult for homeless New Yorkers with disabilities to enter and navigate the shelter system. As a result, some resorted to sleeping on the street, in the subway, or in other public spaces. The lawsuit was brought against the City in 2015 by The Legal Aid Society on behalf of homeless people with disabilities, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, and a settlement was reached in 2017. White & Case served as pro bono counsel. The landmark victory means that the City must remove barriers to shelter access, ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided, and comprehensively improve the shelter system for people with disabilities.