Chief Attorney Defends Right To Shelter From Attacks; Says Lifting The Court Orders Would Turn Back The Clock 30 Years
MONDAY, MARCH 11, 2013

In response to comments by the Mayor and others criticizing court orders requiring New York City to provide shelter to homeless children and adults and blaming the "right to shelter" requirement for the problems the City Administration has had dealing with the record-breaking number of homeless New Yorkers, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal that lifting these orders would "turn back the clock 30 years." He added that the petitioners would have to argue "there is no longer a need to keep women and men and children from freezing to death on our streets."

The Legal Aid Society is counsel in the cases in which the City agreed to court orders requiring the provision of shelter to homeless women and men and to homeless families. The Legal Aid Society is also counsel to the Coalition of the Homeless. Last week, the Coalition for the Homeless released City data showing that the average number of people in the City's homeless shelters reached a record of 50,000 in January, a 19 percent increase from the previous year and a 61 percent increase since the beginning of the current City Administration in 2002. There was also a record number of 21,000 children in the City's shelter system, a 22 percent increase from a year ago, and overall family homelessness has increased by 73 percent since 2002.

The Wall Street Journal
March 8, 2013
Mayor Hits Shelter Rule
By Michael Howard Saul

Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested Friday that court orders mandating New York City provide shelter to the homeless—commonly known as "right to shelter"—are among the many problems confronting his administration's ability to deal with an increase in homelessness.

"We have to provide shelter to anybody," he said on his weekly radio show Friday. "You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we've got to give you shelter. That's what the law is. I didn't write the law."

A spokeswoman declined to expand on the mayor's comments or specify whether the administration has plans to challenge the court judgments.

In January, the average number of people in city homeless shelters hit a record 50,000, a 19% jump from the previous year and a 61% rise since Mr. Bloomberg took office in 2002, according to a report based on city statistics from the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. Among those in city shelters were a record 21,000 children, a 61% increase during Mr. Bloomberg's tenure, the statistics showed.

On Friday, the mayor continued to lash out at advocates for the homeless—and specifically those who work at the Coalition for the Homeless—saying they helped cause the increases. Mr. Bloomberg said the coalition supported the state's decision in 2011 to curtail funding for a rent-subsidy program, called Advantage, that helped homeless people make the transition from shelters to permanent housing.

Echoing comments from earlier in the week, the mayor called that position the "dumbest thing." and accused members of the coalition of being "totally duplicitous" or "misguided."

The coalition confirmed this week that it backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to cut the program. But its position was that the program's money should be used for a different program that was more effective; instead, after the funding was withdrawn and the city canceled Advantage, it wasn't replaced with anything.

In response to the mayor's comments, Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the coalition, said, "The idea that people are buying plane tickets just to stay in New York City's homeless shelters is absurd."

On Friday, George McDonald, a Republican candidate for mayor, issued a statement calling on his rivals to pledge to change this "wrongheaded" right-to-shelter policy, a move that would require court action.

Joe Lhota, the frontrunner in the race for the GOP mayoral nomination, described the landmark 1979 lawsuit Callahan v. Carey, which paved the way for the right to shelter, as "flawed."

"This is the worst form of judicial activism and it should be challenged," he said. A final consent judgment signed by the city in the early 1980s requires the provision of shelter for adult men and women who are homeless because of physical, mental or social dysfunction, or who meet the financial-need standard for public assistance. A 2008 judgment signed by the Bloomberg administration requires shelter for families that lack alternative housing alternatives.

Steve Banks, attorney-in-chief at the Legal Aid Society, a non-profit, said lifting these orders would "turn back the clock 30 years." He said the petitioners would have to argue "there is no longer a need to keep women and men and children from freezing to death on our streets."