News Release: Coalition for the Homeless Sues City of New York About Shortage of Shelter

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 9, 2009

COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS AND LEGAL AID SOCIETY SUE CITY OF NEW YORK FOR FAILURE TO PROVIDE SHELTER TO HOMELESS NEW YORKERS

SUIT: CITY IS OUT OF SHELTER BEDS AND DENYING HOMELESS NEW YORKERS SHELTER AS WINTER APPROACHES

New York - The Legal Aid Society filed suit today on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless for violating the 1981 Callahan v. Carey consent decree governing the right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers by failing to provide adequate shelter beds for the city's rapidly increasing homeless population. With the adult shelter system at over 100% capacity, the City is forcing homeless men to wait throughout the night without any shelter and is busing homeless women in the middle of the night to an ad hoc night-only dormitory to sleep between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The suit charges, "the City's shelter system has run out of beds. Although the demand for shelter has been growing predictably for over a year, the City has made insufficient preparations to meet the current need. As a result, the City is unable to provide lawful shelter to homeless women and men who need it and cannot even meet the minimum standards established by Callahan (the consent decree). Repeatedly over the last three months, a number of homeless New Yorkers have received no bed at all after waiting into the early morning hours."

As a result, the suit states "on a number of nights the City has relegated homeless men to sleep on benches, on the floor or on tables....the City has also run out of lawful shelter for homeless women and is busing women to a temporary dormitory open only for a few hours of sleep at night. The situation for both women and homeless men will only worsen as the weather becomes colder and demand for shelter continues to rise."

Homeless women are being bused for two hours for one-night-only shelter in East New York, arriving at between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. and forced to wake up and vacate the premises at 6 a.m. The Court has previously explicitly forbidden the City from shipping homeless individuals to ad hoc night-only shelter space "in order to protect health and safety and help homeless New Yorkers regain stability in their lives".

The suit details City data showing that the shelter system reached 100% capacity on the night of September 30th and then repeatedly reached capacity throughout October, November and December and charges that the city has taken inadequate measures to prepare for a rapidly increasing homeless population. Instead, in June, the City closed the 150 bed Peter Young shelter for homeless men and women and failed to heed a letter from Legal Aid on October 6th warning of the city's inability to handle the influx of new homeless men and women.

"Homeless New Yorkers desperately need more shelter beds. Mayor Bloomberg needs to acknowledge that our city is facing an unprecedented homeless crisis as frigid weather arrives, and take action to ensure the safety of our homeless neighbors," said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless.

"Over the past 10 weeks we have made every effort to avoid going to court but the situation has gone from bad to worse, and with the onset of winter there is a real risk that vulnerable homeless women and homeless men will suffer serious injury and even death on the streets of the City when they are denied lawful shelter in violation of the long-standing legal right to shelter," said Steve Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society.

The law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP provided pro-bono counsel to the plaintiffs.

A copy of the legal brief in the case is available here.