Disability Rights Alert: Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action Concerning Access to Shelter for Individuals with Disabilities in the New York City Department of Homeless Services Shelter System

UPDATE: At the September 7th fairness hearing, Judge Robert W. Sweet signed the settlement. This is a tremendous victory for New Yorkers with disabilities throughout the shelter system! Read the statement of Coalition for the Homeless in support of the Stipulation of Settlement here.

After years of advocacy and litigation, we are weeks away from finalizing a major Federal class action settlement that will better ensure that people with disabilities are able to access Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters and receive reasonable accommodations consistent with laws governing them.

The lawsuit, Butler v. City of New York, was brought against the City in 2015 on behalf of clients of The Legal Aid Society, Coalition for the Homeless, and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York. Currently, many DHS shelters fail to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which makes it difficult for New Yorkers with disabilities to enter and navigate the shelter system. Some homeless New Yorkers have resorted to sleeping on the street, in the subway, or in parks due to these obstacles.

Now, both sides have agreed to settle the case and ensure that shelters and intake offices are accessible to people with disabilities – a landmark victory for homeless New Yorkers living with disabilities. The next step is for Judge Robert W. Sweet to conduct a hearing to receive feedback on the proposed settlement at 1pm on September 7th at the United States Courthouse (500 Pearl Street, Courtroom 18C, New York, NY 10007). Coalition for the Homeless will testify at the hearing in favor of the settlement, which will remove barriers to shelter access, ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided, and comprehensively improve the DHS system for New Yorkers with disabilities through an evaluation of the current system and facilities, remediation plans, and staff training.

The settlement requires that the City make the shelter system accessible for people with disabilities through the following changes:

  1. Reasonable Accommodation Requests

DHS will provide reasonable accommodations (“RAs”) to Class Members. RAs are changes you need to policies, practices, or facilities that make facilities and services accessible to you. Some examples might be that you can have a service animal, or a bed that you can transfer to/from your wheelchair, or a place to refrigerate your medications. DHS will include information about RAs and how to ask for them on its forms and signage. If you apply for an RA, DHS will give you a written notice of its decision about your RA request. You can appeal if the RA request is denied.

  1. Better Reasonable Accommodations

DHS will try to identify individuals who may need RAs even if they do not request an RA. DHS will also use a system so that DHS staff at any DHS facility can see information about RAs you need. DHS may provide temporary RAs while it is making a final decision.

  1. Looking at Current Policies, Practices, and Facilities

DHS will look at its current policies, practices, and facilities to see if there are problems in them for people with disabilities. DHS will prepare a plan to make the Shelter System accessible to people with disabilities. DHS will use this plan to make its shelters accessible. There will be a plan to be approved by the Court to make sure the City is complying with the settlement.

  1. Staff Training

DHS will train its staff about the rights of people with disabilities and the Settlement. DHS will have staff who can help people with disabilities use the Shelter System and request RAs.

The settlement was the culmination of years of work by lawyers from The Legal Aid Society and White & Case. Shelly Nortz, the Coalition’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy, said, “We are so grateful to both The Legal Aid Society and White & Case for their dedication and expertise in negotiating a truly transformational agreement with DHS for the benefit of our clients living with disabilities.”

For more information about the hearing or to read the full settlement, please visit this webpage.