Homeless, But Not Eligible for Shelter?

Last night, the Bloomberg administration announced it would begin implementing an eligibility procedure for homeless single adults trying to enter shelter — an onerous process that would effectively deny shelter to a great number of homeless people in need. The proposed new rules for homeless single adults largely copy the shelter system’s current disastrous policy of turning away record numbers of homeless families at the shelter door.

But the impact of the new rules for homeless individuals is likely to be even worse. Homeless single adults are more likely to suffer from mental illness and other health problems, and as a result, are less able to navigate the city’s inefficient and bureaucratic shelter rules, and are more likely to end up on street when turned away by the City. As if to illustrate this risk perfectly, the rules are crafted in a way that allows individuals to be found ineligible for a myriad of bureaucratic reasons, including not providing proper documentation, refusing a psychiatric evaluation, or not being eligible for safety net assistance.

Plain and simple, the Bloomberg administration’s dangerous and inhumane new rules will result in more people sleeping on the streets, in the subway system and in other public spaces — just as winter is approaching.

A joint statement by Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Annabel Palma states:

This policy is an irresponsible ‘no room at the inn’ approach that does nothing to address the record number of people experiencing homelessness in New York City as winter approaches…. The recession has had a real effect on unemployment and on people’s ability to stay in their homes — our charge is to find ways to help these people — not to send them into the streets with nowhere to turn to for help.

Last night’s announcement is an admission of failure. Mayor Bloomberg has failed to move homeless families and individuals out of the shelter system and into stable housing, and failed to prevent thousands of New Yorkers from becoming homeless. The result is record homelessness and a shelter system at the breaking point.

Instead of dealing with the real problem – access to affordable housing – the mayor is instead leaving homeless New Yorkers out in the cold.

At any time, the City could use available resources to provide homeless families and individuals with permanent affordable housing assistance. Yet, tragically for the homeless and the entire City of New York, the administration has chosen not only to deny the homeless access to affordable housing, but now to deny them shelter too.

Remembering Yvonne McCain, A True Hero for Homeless New Yorkers

Yvonne McCain, lead plaintiff in a historic lawsuit that ensured the right to shelter for homeless children and families, passed away this week. She will be remembered as a true New York hero.

McCain, a survivor of domestic violence who was forced to endure horrendous conditions in welfare hotels while seeking shelter for herself and her children, became the lead plaintiff in the landmark 1983 lawsuit McCain v. Koch (later v. Dinkinsv. Giuliani, and v. Bloomberg). The McCain case built on the legal victory in Callahan v. Carey, which had established the legal right to shelter for homeless adults, and argued that homeless families and children also deserved decent emergency shelter.

The McCain litigation involving homeless families continued for over two decades. The plaintiffs and the Legal Aid Society, which brought the case, won numerous protections for vulnerable children and families, including a landmark 1986 appellate court ruling affirming the right to shelter for homeless families. Over two decades the amazing legal team, led by attorney Steve Banks, won improved conditions in shelter facilities and court orders prohibiting the City from forcing homeless children and families to sleep on the floors and benches of intake offices.

Finally, after years of opposition by City officials — and particularly virulent opposition from Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, who sought to abolish the legal right to shelter — the McCain case was settled in 2008 in the landmark Boston v. City of New York case. The settlement enshrines the legal right to shelter for homeless families and children.

Steve Banks, who now serves as Attorney-in-Chief of the Legal Aid Society (as well as counsel to the Coalition), summed up Yvonne McCain’s legacy in a moving obituary published in today’s New York Times:

“The import of the settlement, and in a sense Ms. McCain’s life, is that no matter who the mayor is now or in the future, tens of thousands of homeless children and their families are entitled to a roof over their heads.”

McCain ultimately secured a subsidized apartment in Staten Island, get a college decree and a longstanding job at a community college — opportunities that current Bloomberg administration policies deny to thousands of homeless families.

As the Times writes:

The success of her case surprised her. When the lawsuit was first filed, Ms. McCain recalled in 2003, “I thought we were going to get new mattresses and guardrails on the windows and that’s it.”

“I never imagined that this suit would end up being so helpful to so many people.”

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