Legal Aid's Chief Attorney, The New York City Council and WilmerHale Protect Homeless Women and Men During Appellate Division, First Department Hearing

At an Appellate Division, First Department hearing, The Legal Aid Society's Attorney-in-Chief, Steven Banks, urged the appellate court to affirm 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.

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 has been held in abeyance pending the outcome of the appeal involving the Department of Homeless Services' violation of the City Administrative Procedure Act.

In an interview following the First Department hearing, Banks told NY1 that : " It’s obviously of great concern to all New Yorkers whether or not women and men who need help will be turned out into the streets and potentially suffer serious injury, even death, on a night like tonight."

Road to City Hall
NY1 (IND) New York
January 22nd, 2013 7-8 PM

Errol Louis, Anchor: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg are in a rare fight over the city’s homeless policy for single adults. Both sides were in court today, and our own Courtney Gross was there. She filed this report.

Julio Valdez, Homeless New Yorker: I’m freezing in the cold—eighteen degrees, you know what I’m saying, but I’m not going to let that bother me.

Courtney Gross, Reporter: Julio Valdez has been in the city’s shelter system since August, one of the nearly 10,000 single adults, a number that, in recent years, has skyrocketed.

Do you have somewhere else to go?

Julio Valdez: No, I don’t, ma’am.

Courtney Gross: If it were up to Mayor Bloomberg, Valdez might not be eligible for shelter.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg: We don’t have the money. We have an obligation to provide housing when people need it. It’s not unreasonable to make sure that they need it.

Julio Valdez: We dollar signs—over our heads, we dollar signs to them.

Courtney Gross: Under a new Bloomberg policy, the city wants single, homeless adults to prove they have no other housing options. So, perhaps, someone like Valdez might not qualify for shelter. His family is in Brooklyn.

Julio Valdez: I figured that I want to get up and go on my own, and get my own place and get myself together.

Courtney Gross: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has taken the mayor to court over it. Both sides were back in court on Tuesday.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn: They were going to do this in a way that I believe will only result in more homeless people sleeping on the streets overnight.

Courtney Gross: Last year, a lower court sided with the Council, saying the city did not give the public enough notice of the change.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn: They made a change that a mayor is simply not allowed to do unilaterally.

Courtney Gross: The administration is appealing.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg: Asking them to justify, to show that they don’t have alternatives, is nothing that’s unreasonable, and we’re certainly going to do it unless the courts stop us.

Courtney Gross: The administration says the policy will better serve single adults, like Valdez. Attorneys on the Council’s side disagree.

Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society: It’s obviously of great concern to all New Yorkers whether or not women and men who need help will be turned out into the streets and potentially suffer serious injury, even death, on a night like tonight.

Courtney Gross: There’s no clear timeline for the court to make a decision, but attorneys say they expect a decision within the next month or two. At the State Appellate Court, Courtney Gross, the Road to City Hall.