Over the past three decades, Coalition for the Homeless, working in close partnership with the Legal Aid Society and other organizations, has defended the legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers against numerous threats by various City and State officials. (Learn more about the history of the legal right to shelter here.)
The Giuliani/Pataki Attacks on the Legal Right to Shelter
In the 1990s, New York City’s then-Mayor Giuliani launched one of the most serious attacks on the right to shelter, announcing that the City would begin ejecting homeless families and individuals from shelter to the streets if they failed to engage in workfare or failed to comply with other bureaucratic requirements. Under Giuliani’s plan, children of ejected homeless families would have been taken into foster care with their parents left to sleep rough on the streets. Fortunately, a series of legal challenges by Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society resulted in court orders blocking the Giuliani shelter ejection plan.
The punitive shelter ejection rules were based on a New York State regulation (18 NYCRR 352.35), issued in 1995 by the Pataki administration at the strong urging of then-Mayor Giuliani. An additional New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance administrative procedure (05 ADM 07), issued in 2005 by the Pataki administration at the strong urging of the Bloomberg administration, has also resulted in the denial of shelter to many homeless children and families.
In 2003, after years of litigation around the 1995 shelter ejection rules, the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, First Department, overturned a 2000 trial court order blocking the City’s shelter ejection rules, and subsequently the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, refused to hear a further appeal. Since 2003, the City has attempted to eject more than a hundred homeless adults from shelter, many of them individuals living with mental illness and other disabilities. The Coalition, working in partnership with the Legal Aid Society, has represented dozens of homeless adults threatened with loss of shelter and has managed to prevent many wrongful shelter ejections.
Mayor Bloomberg’s Attacks on the Legal Right to Shelter
Mayor Bloomberg inherited and vigorously advanced the Giuliani/Pataki-era atacks on the legal right to shelter, and has also launched attacks of his own.
In June 2009, at the urging of the Bloomberg administration, New York State officials approved punitive new rules that will result in many homeless children and adults in New York City being ejected from shelter to the streets for 30 days or more, and that require many homeless families to make payments for the cost of shelter. Under the new rules implemented by the City of New York with the approval of State officials, many homeless children and adults can be ejected from shelter to the streets for 30 days or more for missing appointments, for failing to pay shelter “rent,” or if a homeless family’s welfare case is suspended or closed – something that happens routinely due to bureaucratic error. Similarly harmful rules have been in effect for homeless adults since 2003, and have primarily affected homeless individuals living with mental illness and other serious health problems.
In 2010, after an intense public campaign opposing the “shelter rent” requirement, the Coalition convinced the New York State Legislature to pass legislation eliminating the “rent” requirement and instead introducing shelter savings plans.
In November 2011, Mayor Bloomberg launched the most aggressive attack on the legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers since the Giuliani and Pataki years. The Bloomberg administration proposed new shelter eligibility rules for homeless singe adults that would effectively deny shelter to thousands of homeless New Yorkers, including many living with mental illness and other serious health problems. (for more background on the proposed rules, please look here.)
Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society immediately filed a legal challenge seeking to block the shelter denial rules, and the City agreed not to implement the new rules pending the legal challenge. The Coalition and the Legal Aid Society argued that the proposed rules violated the Callahan v. Carey consent decree and that the City had failed to comply with New York City Charter provisions governing the issuance of new rules and policies. In late November, the New York City Council filed a similar legal challenge based on the same City Charter provisions. At a December hearing, New York State Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische declared that she would first rule on the City Charter issues and address the Callahan issues pending the outcome of the procedural claims.
On February 21, 2012, Justice Gische ruled for the plaintiffs and the City Council that the City had failed to comply with City Charter requirements regarding the issuance of rules, and declared the proposed shelter eligibility rules “a nullity.” As of late February 2012, the City had declared its intention to appeal the trial court decision and the Coalition’s struggle against Mayor Bloomberg’s shelter denial rules continues. In January 2013, oral argumanets were held in the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division (First Department) on the City’s appeal of the trial court order.
Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society continue to urge State officials to modify the Pataki-era shelter-ejection regulation and shelter-denial procedure in order to protect homeless children and adults — in particular people living with disabilities — from loss of shelter. And we continue to fight recent attacks on the legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers.