Save the Right to Shelter

Discover more about the Right to Shelter and how you can help to protect this fundamental right for all New Yorkers.

The saying goes “I ❤️ NY.” But will we still love New York when the legal Right to Shelter is dismantled? When thousands of individuals, who have so little, have even more taken from them, what does that say about us as a community? New York City has long served as a welcoming beacon of progressive and humane ideals, a place that turns its back on no one. Since the legal Right to Shelter was established in 1981, more than one million people have found a pathway off the streets. When you look at other U.S. cities, one thing becomes clear: the Right to Shelter in NYC has worked. That is why we must defend this fundamental protection for those without homes.


Because: Shelter Saves Lives.


What is the Right to Shelter?

A legal right providing that anyone in New York City without a place to live is guaranteed safe, decent, and appropriate shelter so they don’t have to end up on the streets. This right exists in New York because of a lawsuit brought by the founders of the Coalition for the Homeless in 1979 on behalf of a class of homeless adult men. That case, Callahan v. Carey, was brought to enforce the Right to Shelter based on Article XVII of the New York State Constitution which states that “the aid, care, and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions.” Callahan v. Carey was settled in August 1981 with the signing of the Callahan consent decree, which requires New York City to provide shelter to all homeless adult men. Callahan was soon extended to include homeless adult women, and subsequent litigation by the Legal Aid Society established the right to shelter for homeless families with children through a New York appellate court decision finding that it is likely that Article XVII of the State constitution mandates the provision of shelter.

While not a substitute for permanent stable housing, the Right to Shelter has given more than one million homeless New Yorkers a way off the streets since 1981.  It is because of the Right to Shelter that NYC does not have the sprawling tent encampments seen in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Chicago, even though there are more people in NYC without homes.


What is currently happening with the Right to Shelter?

Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul are seeking permission from the court to modify the Right to Shelter in a way that would relieve the City of its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need, including long-time New Yorkers as well as new arrivals. 


Why are they doing this?

Attacking the Right to Shelter is not new. Many past Mayors have tried to limit it. What is different this time is the dual crisis NYC is experiencing: the ongoing crisis of mass homelessness, due to the lack of affordable housing, and the newer crisis created by the influx of asylum seekers and other new arrivals without sufficient State and Federal resources. The Mayor and Governor are trying to use this situation to achieve what others have not by incorrectly asserting that eliminating the Right to Shelter will stop people who are fleeing oppression in other nations from coming to New York. Throughout our history, people have come to New York because of its well-known reputation for opportunity, tolerance, and diversity, and have contributed their work, their culture, and their vitality to our state, helping New York grow and thrive. Immigration to New York will continue with or without the Right to Shelter. 

What the Mayor and Governor really want is the ability to deal with homelessness however they choose, including gutting the Right to Shelter which will result in thousands of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets like they do in other major cities. 

What will happen if Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul succeed?

  • The City and State will be able to deny shelter not only to new arrivals but also to many longer-term New Yorkers, including those receiving disability income or those who are employed but unable to afford housing and turn to shelters instead of the streets.
  • NYC will start to look like Los Angeles or San Francisco or other urban centers, with large tent encampments in our public spaces.
  • Thousands more people will end up sleeping on the streets where they will be at risk of grave harm, particularly during winter and other inclement weather.


Did the new arrivals cause this to happen?

No. What we are experiencing is the result of policy CHOICES. In March 2022, before the large influx of new arrivals into NYC began, there were over 48,000 unhoused people in NYC shelters – and before the pandemic, the shelter census hit 63,000. And hundreds of thousands were living doubled-up with others, outdoors, or in unsafe, illegal, or other precarious conditions.  If the City and State had been serious about addressing mass homelessness by investing in permanent affordable and supportive housing at a scale to meet the level of need, and if Governor Hochul had stepped up from day one of the crisis to use the full resources and authority of her office to create a comprehensive statewide decompression and resettlement plan for the new arrivals, NYC would not be in its current dire situation. 

What’s the alternative

There are many steps the City and State can take to address this situation including:

  • Helping homeless long-time New Yorkers move out of shelters and into affordable permanent housing by, among other things, implementing reforms to the CityFHEPS voucher program and spending funds already appropriated through the nearly $200 million in New York State’s Rent Supplement Program;
  • Expanding access to State FHEPS so that New Yorkers do not end up in shelters in the first place because they cannot afford permanent housing.
  • Providing more City, State, and Federally-owned facilities for use as temporary shelters for new arrivals across the State;
  • Implementing a resettlement program to rapidly connect new arrivals with New York State communities with available jobs and in need of new residents; and
  • Providing the case management and legal services needed to help new arrival households identify pathways to stability so they can move out of shelter quickly.