Since 1981, the
Coalition has served as the court-appointed monitor of the New York City
shelter system serving single adults, conducting both scheduled and unannounced
inspections of shelters and organizing residents to identify and address
problematic conditions in shelters. In January 2016, this role was greatly
expanded when Mayor de Blasio – responding to scathing reports from the
Department of Investigation and the Comptroller’s office – asked the Coalition to
extend our oversight to include the shelter system serving homeless families.
In the past four decades,
Coalition for the Homeless, working in close partnership with The Legal Aid
Society and other organizations, has defended the legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers
against numerous threats by City and State officials. (Learn more about
the history of the legal right to shelter here.)
The Coalition monitors
hundreds of shelters throughout New York City. Our dedicated team of shelter
monitors visit shelters during both daytime and evening hours, and they
coordinate with other Coalition programs to follow up on reports we receive
from shelter residents about problems at particular facilities.
The Coalition’s shelter
monitors conduct formal, joint inspections of single adult and family shelters
with Department of Homeless Services (DHS) staff. For each, Coalition and DHS staff
conduct a thorough inspection of the building and assess compliance with relevant
regulations, ensuring that common areas and individual units are clean and in
good physical condition, the facility is free of rodents or vermin, and the
fixtures in the bathrooms are functional. Shelter monitors ensure that
conditions are abated quickly, and they re-inspect shelters to track the
progress of longer-term capital repairs.
In addition to scheduled
joint inspections, the Coalition also performs unannounced inspections of
shelters – usually at night, when the most pressing problems related to physical
conditions, social services and shelter capacity typically arise. Since shelter
staff do not know when Coalition monitors may arrive, our unannounced visits yield
the most valuable and actionable information. These monitoring visits also
present an opportunity to speak with shelter residents about their concerns,
and to refer them to relevant resources.
The Butler v. City of New York class action lawsuit was
brought to ensure that people with disabilities are able to meaningfully access
DHS shelters and services. Before Butler, many DHS shelters failed
to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making it difficult
for homeless New Yorkers with disabilities to enter and navigate the shelter
An estimated 67 percent of single adult shelter residents have a disability compared with 11.2 percent of the overall NYC population. Similarly, high rates of disability exist among homeless families with minor children (51 percent) and adult families in which no minor child is present (78 percent). The very safety net meant to protect homeless individuals and families far too often fails to provide proper access for those with disabilities. Prior to the Butler settlement, far too many homeless New Yorkers with disabilities faced unlawful barriers, practices, policies, and other obstacles as well as a lack of sufficient staff training, which combined to make City shelters inaccessible for them.
The lawsuit was filed against the City in 2015 by The Legal Aid Society on behalf of homeless people with disabilities, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, and a settlement was reached in 2017. White & Case served as pro bono counsel. The landmark victory requires that the City remove barriers to shelter access, ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided, and comprehensively improve the shelter system for people with disabilities.