NY City Council Joins the Fight Against Misguided Shelter Denial Rules

Today the New York City Council voted to authorize a legal challenge against the City’s proposed new bureaucratic rules that would deny shelter to homeless adults, including those living with mental illness.  The Council’s actions were widely covered by the local news media, with reports from the New York Times, NY1 News, WCBS news, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, as well as the Huffington Post,

The City Council passed a resolution authorizing litigation to challenge the punitive new shelter eligibility rules, which Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society have also challenged as an unlawful violation the Callahan v. Carey consent decree. Please see more about the dangerous new rules here, and you can read our recent City Council testimony about the proposed policy here.

The City Council plans to argue that the City’s proposed rules fail to comply with City Charter-mandated requirements to offer the public a chance to review and comment on rule changes. Indeed, as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn noted at a press conference before today’s vote, she and other City Councilmembers first learned about the new rules from a WNBC TV news report. And before we filed our legal challenge, City officials planned to implement the rules only four business days after that TV news report aired, with no opportunity for public comment or review by the courts.

Sadly, City officials seem determined to mislead the public about not only the substance of the misguided rules, but also about how they planned to implement them without any public input or scrutiny. Indeed, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond made the following remarkable statement to the New York Times:

“We gave two weeks’ notification to Legal Aid,” [Diamond] said. “I testified in front of the City Council for several hours and answered all of their questions. We are participating in a judicial review of the policy. We think we have provided an opportunity for people who are concerned to review the policy, to make comments, and at the end of the day we’re confident that we have a good policy that is fair to the people we’re serving and fair to the taxpayers.”

Now, even by the degraded standards of political spin, this is a pretty wild claim. First of all, the City informed the Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless, who represent homeless plaintiffs in the 30-year-old Callahan consent decree, at 5:00 pm on Thursday, November 3rd, of its plans to implement the rules beginning on Monday, November 14th — and the intervening period contained two weekends and not one, but two legal holidays (Veterans Day and Election Day).

Second, the only reason Diamond “testified in front of the City Council for several hours” is because Council Speaker Quinn and oversight committee chair Annabel Palma called an emergency hearing on November 9th to demand answers about the rules.

And third, the only reason the City is “participating in a judicial review of the policy” is because…well, because the Coalition and the Legal Aid Society were forced to sue the City!

Ultimately, we continue to hope that Mayor Bloomberg and his administration will reverse course and rescind the misguided eligibility rules. In the meantime, we applaud the strong stand that Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Annabel Palma, and the rest of the City Council has taken to protect some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers from being turned out in the cold.

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