LAS Commends Council Speaker for Her Reforms

Statement of Seymour W. James, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society

We commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito who has chosen to tackle the historic homelessness crisis head-on and has once again demonstrated her commitment to addressing the challenges of our problem-ridden criminal justice system.

By building on proven successful housing-based strategies and partnering with the State to expand housing assistance for homeless families and individuals, New York City can stabilize – and ultimately substantially reduce – NYC’s homeless population. The Speaker’s support to raise the minimum wage; call for NYCHA to set-aside more housing units for homeless families; call for the City and State to partner to accelerate plans to develop supportive housing; push for the creation of a permanent rental subsidy program; and request for more federally funded section 8 will go a long way to ensure that vulnerable homeless New Yorkers can access and maintain permanent housing, the only lasting solution to homelessness.

Regarding the criminal justice system, the Speaker's announcement of an independent commission to explore community-based justice and detention is a promising development towards reducing the jailing of those too poor to pay bail and towards moving those who must be detained away from the chaotic and violent environment of Rikers Island. The plan to expedite dismissal of old summonses and warrants will help remove barriers that interfere with housing and employment opportunities and in many cases lead to more needless incarceration. Recognition of re-entry as a critical need through better coordination of transitional services will make a significant difference in the lives of Legal Aid’s clients and others who are striving to move past criminal justice encounters and resume law-abiding civilian life.

We, at The Legal Aid Society, look forward to these reform efforts to dramatically reduce homelessness in NYC and improve the criminal justice system. We shall work with the Speaker to make them a realty.