Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Expresses Shock Over City and State Plans to Evict Homeless Families
TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2009

Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, expressed shock over the City's and State's tougher policy toward homeless families who now can be ejected from city shelters for breaking rules like staying out past curfew and failing to sign in and said the policy will be harmful to innocent children and their families.

"With all of the problems that the state has and all of the problems that the city has right now, in the midst of this economic downturn, it’s shocking that the state and the city are prepared to invest the resources to put innocent children and their families out of safety-net shelters onto the streets," Banks told The New York Times. "You have to wonder who needs this, with all of the other issues that are going on." Banks said that the policy would be harmful to children and especially to adults with physical and mental impairments, who might be a risk of sanction. Homeless families with children can be ejected to the streets and the children subjected to foster care of periods of 30 days or longer for violating shelter rules or for failing to keep their public assistance cases open, even though bureaucratic error is the cause of widespread case clossings.

 

The New York Times
Homeless Families Could Face Eviction Over Rules
By Julie Bosman
Published: July 27, 2009

Homeless families can be kicked out of city shelters for repeatedly breaking rules like staying out past curfew or for refusing apartments offered to them, according to a tougher policy that takes effect Tuesday.

The new policy gives the city greater latitude to push families out of the shelter system, which had swelled to a near-high of 9,720 families as of Sunday. Families could always be evicted for illegal behavior like bringing in drugs or weapons, but they can now be ousted for any of 28 violations, including failing to sign in and out or not keeping an active case file with city welfare agencies.

The new policy is also meant to encourage families to more readily accept permanent housing, even if it is not to their liking.

“We would only expect to use this process in the most egregious of situations,” said Robert V. Hess, the commissioner for homeless services, in an interview on Monday. “We do have a small number of families where temporary emergency shelter is really being used as permanent housing.”

Evictions are for a 30-day period.

The five homeless shelters that are fully operated by the Department of Homeless Services will be the first to test out the new rules, which go into effect there on Tuesday. Shelters operated by the roughly 150 organizations that hold contracts with the city will begin by Aug. 17.

Steven R. Banks, the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society who has represented homeless families in decades-long litigation against the city, said he believed that the policy would be harmful to children and especially to adults with physical and mental impairments, who might be at risk of sanction.

“With all of the problems that the state has and all of the problems that the city has right now, in the midst of this economic downturn, it’s shocking that the state and the city are prepared to invest the resources to put innocent children and their families out of safety-net shelters onto the streets,” Mr. Banks said. “You have to wonder who needs this, with all of the other issues that are going on.”

Several nonprofit shelter providers, who asked not to be identified because they feared retaliation from the administration, said that they did not intend to evict any families from shelters.

But others said they were grateful for the ability to threaten the most difficult families with ejection.

“If you need a big stick now and then, for certain families, so be it,” said Richard Motta, the president and chief executive of Volunteers of America of Greater New York, which runs three family shelters.

The lack of such a threat was a problem, Mr. Motta said.

“There’s not a caseworker alive that wants to realize that threat, and as an agency, we don’t want to move people to the streets,” he said. “That’s not what we’re in business to do. But if you enter the shelter, if you know there’s a threat of being put out of the shelter, you’ll be more likely to follow the rules.”

The city already has the power to eject single adults from shelters.

State approval was required to put into place the new policies for families. After months of lobbying from city officials, and opposition from local advocates for the homeless, the approval was granted by David A. Hansell, the commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, on June 25, his second-to-last day on the job. Mr. Hansell, a former Bloomberg administration official, resigned from his post to take a job with the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Hansell decided that the policy would be in effect for only one year as a “demonstration project,” a move that Mr. Hess said he supported. Ten months after the policy begins, the city will be required to write a report on the results to that point.

Mr. Hess said it was not clear where families removed from shelter might turn. “The most likely outcome is that the family would demonstrate that they do have a place to go,” he said.

An instructional guide provided to shelter operators appears to leave open the possibility that families will be subject to the elements. It instructs shelter operators that no families should be ejected during a “Code Blue Winter Weather Alert,” or when the temperature drops to 32 degrees.