In Legal Aid Case, First Department Upholds Trial Court Order Stopping City Plan To Deny Shelter To Vulnerable Homeless Women And Men
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2013

Yesterday, a unanimous decision by the Appellate Division, First Department affirmed a trial court ruling that the New York City Department of Homeless Services cannot implement a controversial new policy that would have permitted the denial of shelter from the elements for homeless single women and men. On behalf of homeless women and men and the Coalition for the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society and pro bono counsel Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP argued that the Department of Homeless Services failed to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act because the Department did not provide public notice and an opportunity for public comment on this sea change in City policy. The New York City Council also challenged the proposed new policy on the grounds that the Department violated the City Administrative Procedure Act.

In a public statement after the ruling, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society who argued the case before the First Department last month, said the ruling, which affirmed a 2012 decision from then Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische, "will protect vulnerable women and men from being denied shelter under the Department of Homeless Services' proposed new shelter denial plan. It should not have required litigation to stop this plan that would have resulted in women and men in need of shelter being turned away when they seek help from the Department of Homeless Services. We greatly appreciate the leadership of the Speaker and the City Council in this matter."

He told Reuters yesterday that "the simplicity of the unanimous ruling today upholding the trial court should be a clear message that the City should abandon this misguided effort and not pursue any further appeals."

In an interview, Banks also told WNYC that "by the City's own analysis a substantial percentage of these New Yorkers have mental health challenges and have substance abuse problems. They need a helping hand not the back of the hand." Banks told the New York Law Journal that "I would hope that the City would give up this misguided plan which will hurt homeless men and women."

When the City proposed the new policy in November 2011, The Legal Aid Society challenged the policy and predicted that many vulnerable homeless New Yorkers would not be able to comply and would end up being denied shelter unlawfully.

The City has admitted that the proposed new policy would result in the denial of shelter to between 10 and 60 percent of the nearly 20,000 homeless women and men who seek shelter during the course of a year. Before the trial court, The Legal Aid Society argued that the new policy would violate a 1981 consent decree that requires the City to provide shelter to women and men in need of shelter by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction or who meet the need standard for public assistance, but that issue was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the appeal involving the Department of Homeless Services' violation of the City Administrative Procedure Act.




City loses latest round in legal battle over homeless shelters
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters)

A state appeals court has rejected New York's controversial new eligibility requirements for its homeless shelters, the latest chapter in a decades-long legal battle over the city's homeless policies.

In a one-sentence order Thursday, the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed a 2012 decision from Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische, who found that the city illegally bypassed a public hearing and other vetting steps in implementing the new policy.

The city's corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, said in a statement that the city was considering its legal options.

"The Department of Homeless Services' efforts to properly determine individuals' eligibility are rational, important steps to fulfilling its core mandate," Cardozo said.

In November 2011, the city approved a new application process requiring individual homeless men and women seeking a bed to prove they had nowhere else to stay.

City council members, including speaker Christine Quinn, who is a 2013 mayoral candidate, said the policy would end up forcing thousands to remain on the streets.

Both the Legal Aid Society and the city council filed lawsuits challenging the new procedure. The case was the first lawsuit brought against Mayor Michael Bloomberg by the city council since Quinn became speaker in 2006.

"Our city's homeless people need to be helped - not hindered - in their efforts to locate shelter," said Quinn and Councilwoman Annabel Palma in a joint statement Thursday.

The policy, intended to reduce the number of applicants, was similar to the one in effect for years for homeless families. City officials had estimated that the change would save $4 million a year.

The city's homeless services commissioner, Seth Diamond, noted in a statement that the decision did not address the substantive merits of the requirement and warned that the ruling would force the city to build more shelters.

The Legal Aid Society said the new policy would effectively turn away at least 10 percent of the 20,000 homeless men and women who pass through New York's homeless shelters every year.

"The simplicity of the unanimous ruling today upholding the trial court should be a clear message that the city should abandon this misguided effort and not pursue any further appeals," Steven Banks, the society's top attorney, said in an interview.

Over the years, Legal Aid and other advocates have frequently clashed with the city in court over its homeless policies.

The case is In the Matter of the Application of The Council of the City of New York v. The Department of Homeless Services of the City of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, No. 9223.

For the council: Elizabeth Fine.

For the Legal Aid Society: Steven Banks.

For the city: Ronald Sternberg of the New York City Law Department.




WNYC News
City Loses Another Round in Shelter Battle
Thursday, February 14, 2013
By Cindy Rodriguez

An appeals court has ruled the city may not go forward with a controversial policy that would have made it tougher for poor New Yorkers to qualify for shelter.

The city contends many people seeking shelter have relatives and friends willing to take them in. In November of 2011, the city announced it would require single adults to prove they have no other place to go. The rule already applies to families who apply for shelter.

Legal Aid challenged the policy and predicted that many vulnerable people would not be able to comply and would end up being wrongly denied shelter.

"By the city's own analysis a substantial percentage of these New Yorkers have mental health challenges, have substance abuse problems," said Steve Banks, Attorney in Chief at the Legal Aid Society. "They need a helping hand not the back of a hand."

A lower court ruled the city failed to follow proper procedures prior to implementing the rule which would have required a public announcement and an opportunity for public comment. On Thursday, the appeals court agreed. Banks said he hoped the city would now drop the policy shift. But Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond said the city would continue to fight to keep the policy.

"This procedural decision will force the city to build more shelters in neighborhoods throughout the city," Diamond said. "We are confident that city taxpayers and community groups, especially those who object to new shelter proposals understand the need for a thoughtful approach that fairly reserves shelter for those with no alternatives."

The city's law department said it's exploring an appeal to a higher court or fixing the procedural issues the court has pointed out.

Mary Brosnahan from Coalition for the Homeless applauded the court decision.

"The Bloomberg administration's attempt to block access to vital shelter would have relegated many more people to sleep on the streets, in the subway system, and in other public spaces in the middle of winter, " she wrote in statement.




Panel Blocks City Plan for Shelter Eligibility
By Jeff Storey
New York Law Journal
02-15-2013

A Manhattan-based appellate panel has upheld a decision that blocked New York City from instituting a new process for determining the eligibility of single homeless adults for temporary admission to shelters. Among other things, applicants would have been required to prove they had no other place to go before entering a shelter. City Council and other opponents immediately went to court, arguing that what they characterized as a "shelter denial plan" violated a 1981 consent degree (NYLJ, Feb. 22, 2012).

The new process was to have gone into effect on Nov. 14, 2011, but Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische (See Profile), ruling in two companion cases, said the city had not followed the "express, rigorous procedure," including publication and public hearings, for enacting new rules. A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed that decision "for the reasons stated" by Gische without further comment yesterday. Joining the ruling in Callahan v. Carey and Council v. Department of Homeless Services, 9222 and 9223, and were Justices John Sweeny (See Profile), David Saxe (See Profile), Leland DeGrasse (See Profile), Sheila Abdus-Salaam (See Profile) and Paul Feinman (See Profile). Oral argument was held on Jan. 22.

Justice Gische is now on the First Department bench.

Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society, which represented the Callahan plaintiffs, said in an interview that "in its simplicity, [the decision] is an extremely forceful statement" the city was wrong. "I would hope that the city would give up this misguided plan which will hurt homeless men and women."

Corporation Counsel Michael Cadozo said that the city was disappointed. "We believe the court erred in its interpretation of the City Administrative Procedure Act (CAPA)," he said in a statement. "The Department of Homeless Services' efforts to properly determine individuals' eligibility are rational, important steps to fulfilling its core mandate." Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond predicted that the procedural ruling would force the city to build more shelters.