Rally for the Right to Shelter: Listen to the people’s will! We don’t want no Hochulvilles!

On Tuesday, December 5, 2023 the Coalition for the Homeless, Legal Aid Society, Win, Episcopal Diocese of New York, Housing Justice For All, and other partner organizations and members of the NY SANE coalition, rallied and marched to demand that Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul stop their attacks on the legal Right to Shelter.

This date is significant. December 5, 1979, was the first time the New York State Supreme Court ordered the City and the State to provide shelter to homeless adult men under the then ongoing Callahan v. Carey lawsuit. The case was ultimately settled with the signing of the Callahan consent decree two years later, establishing the legal Right to Shelter for homeless adult men. The right was later extended to adult women, and then, through subsequent litigation, to families with children. Thus, December 5th is celebrated as Right to Shelter Day.

Now, 44 years after that first momentous court order, Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul are working to dismantle this fundamental right, which has given more than one million homeless people a way off the streets over the past four decades.

It was a wonderful sight to see hundreds of people from scores of organizations gathering across two locations: Bowling Green in Manhattan and at the State Capitol in Albany, contributing their voices to this critical cause. The stakes could not be higher.  If the Mayor and Governor get their way, thousands more people will be relegated to sleeping on the streets, exposed to the harsh winter weather.

As the rally continued, tents popped up across Bowling Green tagged with the word “Hochulville,” a haunting reference to the Depression-era Hoovervilles, as a criticism of Governor Hochul’s attack on the legal Right to Shelter and her failure to take a leadership role in creating a statewide decompression and resettlement plan for the thousands of new arrivals coming to New York. 

Tents set up across Bowling Green, coined Hochulvilles – a haunting reference to the depression-era Hoovervilles.

“For the past 42 years, New York’s legal Right the Shelter has worked for our city. When people from LA or San Francisco come to NYC, they’re shocked by how different homelessness looks here, because we have long been committed to the ideal that no one should have to sleep on the streets. The Right to Shelter has already helped over a million homeless New Yorkers find a way off the streets, and dismantling that right will do nothing more than lead to the emergence of tent “Hochulvilles” and increased suffering among those most in need. Mayor Adams’ and Governor Hochul’s attack on this fundamental right is cruel, counter-productive, and unnecessary, given the tools and resources that the City – and, even more so, the State – have to address the current crisis,” said Dave Giffen, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless. 

Rev. Adriene Thorne from The Riverside Church emcee’d the New York City event, as we heard from Milton Perez of VOCAL-NY; NYC Comptroller Brad Lander; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Rabbi Barat Ellman; former shelter resident Chris Blackmon; Adriene Holder, Chief Attorney of the Civil Practice Unit at The Legal Aid Society; Chris Quinn, President and CEO of Win; and Dave Giffen, Executive Director of the Coalition. 

“Rolling back the right to shelter will not only result in more people living in unsafe conditions and undermine our efforts to break the cycle of homelessness but will fray the moral fiber of our city,” said Christine Quinn.

Rally members were struck by some powerful words from New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who said: “New Yorkers have a Right to Shelter. It’s been a moral right throughout our city’s history, and a legal right for over four decades – it doesn’t disappear in the face of a crisis. The right to shelter isn’t failing – our leaders are.”

Following the rousing program, attendees marched up Broadway to City Hall, where Rev. Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center NY, delivered a petition to Mayor Adams to cease his attack on the Right to Shelter. The action was closed out by a meaningful prayer by Imam Musa Kabba.

The Albany rally echoed the demand to protect the Right to Shelter through various powerful speakers. The event was led by Peter Cook of the NYS Council of Churches and the Interfaith Affordable Housing Collaborative who was joined by advocates, providers, and individuals impacted by homelessness. Speakers included: Bebhinn Francis of VOCAL-NY;  Debora Brown-Johnson of the Poor People’s Campaign and the NAACP; Dio Kaufman of the Capital District Democratic Socialists of America; Gabriela Romero, Albany’s 6th Ward Common Council Member; Canyon Ryan of United Tenants of Albany; and Taina Wagnac of the New York Immigration Coalition. A prominent Hochulville banner and pop-up tents served as the backdrop, while the crowd waved signs and burst out into chants between speakers. Three New York State elected officials added their voices to our cause. Assembly members Harvey Epstein, Tony Simone, and Al Taylor all spoke eloquently about the need to house all New Yorkers whether they are citizens or new arrivals. The Albany rally garnered significant media coverage in the Capital District.

Thank you to everyone who attended the NYC rally and march as well as the Albany rally! We will continue to fight for the Right to Shelter as a baseline of decency in our community, as the very least we can do to make sure people are not relegated to living – and dying – on our streets. Tent cities are not the solution. The Right to Shelter must remain intact as it is a constitutional right of every person in New York.

Featured press:
Advocates rally to keep Right to Shelter law alive, Julia Joseph and Adolfo Carrion, News 12, December 5, 2023

Rally to Defend NYC’s Right to Shelter, Emma Whitford, Adi Talwar and Jeanmarie Evelly, City Limits, December 6, 2023

The Right-to-Shelter Battle, Gaby Acevedo, NBC4, December 5, 2023

Lawmakers, advocates for homeless rally to defend Right to Shelter law in NYC, Lauren Glassberg, ABC7 Eyewitness News, December 5, 2023

Protestors demand Adams, Hochul keep right-to-shelter in place, Nia Clark, NY1 Spectrum News, December 6, 2023

Housing advocates call on Hochul to protect right to shelter, Molly Burke, Times Union, December 5, 2023